Tuesday, April 12, 2011

How the Kremlin Was Secretly Behind the Pot Parade

Part I : "Oh, do I have a story for you..."

"Oh, do I have a story for you...," that was really what the dude said, and where our story starts.

We were sitting at a table in an unmarked underground restaurant across the street from Wo-Hop, in Chinatown. They gave us a big, round table in a reserved room behind ornate red doors, where they knew our laywer, Bill Kunstler, well. Bill knew me tangentially, from the lower Manhattan political circus/circuit.  From the Abzug years on through Abscam, we'd often found ourselves at the same rubber chicken, stale bagel, and bad brie venues.

The finest in snacks were produced to celebrate -- Kunstler had gotten a jury verdict overturned by a judge presiding over that jury on that case. Very rare. At the table were myself and him, Mickey Cezar, the "Pope of Pot." Keith and Kenny and Mike, Mickey's three "cardinals," were also there, as well as Paul Krassner from High Times magazine.

Mickey, head of the "we deliver" service 1-800-WANT-POT as advertised on Channel 13, had gotten himself arrested for a "paraphernalia" charge. He led a community group to clean all the needles out of Tompkins Square Park. As he did so, the NYPD arrested him for the dirty needles possession charge. He was otherwise a very careful man, you see, and although the jury had to find him guilty under statute, Kunstler argued that it was not in any way reasonable to construe the possession as criminal in this case. He did so very well.

Mickey had ordered several political posters made, and being a design student at the time, with an early Mac, I'd volunteered to design one.

The May 1st Pot Parade had just come and gone, it was late spring, and I'd met a bizarre fellow at a party at Mickey's "church" a few weeks earlier. The church was an old, gutted comic book shop on Greenwich Ave., painted bright yellow with Spider-Man spewing a web across the storefront. (It's a BBQ joint now; there's a pool table where Mickey's desk was.)

Nevertheless, this weird dude recruited me away from the party, which was a few weeks earlier than the parade -- HIS parade, to hear him say it -- and got me to paste up lower Manhattan with parade fliers. This oddfella went by the name of "Dana Beal." When I did not recognize him, he seemed downright hurt.

See, he knew me too. He knew perfectly well I was bored out of my mind at such parties and social events. Bored, zoned out, disaffected by excesses, etc. Beal was a lesser-known co-founder of the Youth International Party, or "Yippies" -- along with counterculture heavy-hitters Krassner, Kunstler, Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, Allen Ginsberg, Phil Ochs, Ed Sanders, John Sinclair et al. -- and had seen me all my life. We lived on the same block, and his friends had brought that damn painted bus in to teach us political lessons. Dana knew me on sight.

When the conversation and flow of fried seafood at the table reached something near a lull, I asked "So who is this Dana Beal, and why is he so important to the Pot Parade…?"

Kunstler shot me a "Who the hell are you to ask THAT" look, then glanced at Mickey. Mickey was very interested in me and said with an approving nod, "Go ahead, tell him."

Whereupon Bill leaned back in his chair and said, with a DEEP belly laugh, "Oh, do I have a story for you..."