IN THE MID-1950s, Anaheim, California, a smog-choked working-class town fifteen miles from the nearest beach, was bursting with recent Mexican immigrants and a mass migration of blue-collar white Americans who had fled south from the wave of black families who began to move into Los Angeles suburbs like Watts and Compton after the Second World War. A century after it was founded by German immigrants as a farming community in 1857, Anaheim’s boundless orange groves were quickly being devoured by factories and suburban tract. In 1955, the city’s most famous feature, the Disneyland Theme Park, opened its doors and, at about that time—the exact date is unclear—a tough young Okie with an awkward stutter arrived with his family to find the American dream.
Long before he became Timothy Leary’s self-described spiritual guru and the leader of the secretive group of drug smugglers who literally provided the fuel for America’s psychedelic revolution, back when John Griggs was still in junior high school, his classmates knew him as an occasionally mean-spirited badass prone to picking fights. He was short but wiry and muscular—a champion wrestler, to boot—and wore his dark, fine hair slicked back from his forehead in a jaunty pompadour. His piecing blue eyes seemed to be pulled downward by some force beyond gravity, giving his face a somber, almost tragic expression, even when accompanied by his perpetually crooked and mischievous-seeming shit-eating grin.
John Griggs’s Graduation Photo, Anaheim High School, 1961. A champion wrestler, Griggs had a reputation as a badass prone to picking fights. (Courtesy Dion Wright)
When Griggs spoke, he tended to stutter for the first few syllables, a speech impediment that might have been amplified by the amphetamine pills he was known to pop like candy as a teenager. He spoke fast, and the stutter would disappear a few words into each sentence. He had a quick wit and an uncanny ability to size people up. Few people who knew him ever saw Griggs actually fight. He didn’t have to use his fists. Instead, Griggs would walk up to a guy he didn’t like, usually someone much more muscular or who had a reputation as a bully, and start hurling insults and threats at his rival. If the guy didn’t back off, Griggs’s buddies would suddenly appear out of nowhere, jump in, and start kicking the shit out of the offending party.
Robert Ackerly, a tall, lanky kid with stringy dark hair and an impudent smirk that never left his face, befriended Griggs at Anaheim High School. Ackerly hung out with a trio of brothers, Tommy, JC, and Freddy Tunnell, whose parents were friends with the Griggs family in Oklahoma and who had moved west together. Ackerly was a few years younger than Griggs but best friends with Tommy Tunnell, who, like his brothers, and Griggs, for that matter, was a rebellious, unruly jock. Tunnell introduced Ackerly to Griggs at a party in 1958. Griggs and the rest of the wrestling team, decked out in blue nylon jackets with varsity letters, were drunk and angry. Griggs boasted loudly to Ackerly that they planned to crash another party and beat the shit out of the captain of a wrestling team from a rival high school. Griggs called his coterie of fellow wrestlers the Blue Jackets. In Ackerly’s telling, the gang represents the earliest incarnation of Griggs’s organizing abilities that would ultimately create the legendary Brotherhood of Eternal Love.
Griggs was already dating an attractive young brunette from Long Beach, Carol Horan, whom he would marry in 1961, the year he graduated from high school, a few classes behind Bobby Hatfield, half of the legendary “blue-eyed soul” duo the Righteous Brothers, whose early-1960s hits included “Unchained Melody” and “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling.” By then, Griggs had left the Blue Jackets behind and taken over the Street Sweepers, an infamous Anaheim car club; its members, who met at a Mexican grease joint called the Bean Hut, bounced back and forth between school and juvenile hall, staging impromptu drag races and cruising around in German army helmets, drunk or high on speed or pot, throwing water balloons and eggs at anyone they didn’t know or didn’t like.
Ackerly was something of a badass himself, but not nearly so much as his older brother Dick, a barroom brawler so notorious that fighters from as far away as Boston and Chicago would come to town specifically hoping to break his nose. Dick taught Ackerly how to box. His first fight took place just three days after he moved to Anaheim from Los Angeles in 1956, when he was just twelve years old, a freshman at Fremont Junior High School. Someone who didn’t like the way Ackerly was looking at his girlfriend grabbed him by the neck and started kicking him in the nuts until his brother Dick ended the brawl by punching his attacker in the head. “In those days it was pure fisticuffs,” Ackerly recalls. “There was no peace and love going on at that time. It was ‘Don’t look at me. What are you looking at? You wanna fight?’”
Through his friendship with Tunnell, Ackerly began hanging out with Griggs and quickly became part of the latter’s entourage of street fighters. Once, at another party, they were standing in front of someone’s house when Griggs saw a group of older, bigger guys sitting in their car. He walked over and jabbed his finger in the face of the driver. “Get out of that fucking car,” Griggs barked. “I am going to beat your fucking ass! I am going to scratch your fucking eyes out and bite your fucking nose off, motherfucker.” Tunnell and Ackerly stood by ready to start throwing punches. But as Griggs reached through the window to pull one of the passengers out of the car, the terrified teenagers sped off.
Before long, Ackerly, Tunnell, and several of their classmates were following Griggs all over Anaheim looking for fights. Sometimes they just fought among themselves, practicing their skills by kicking cigarettes out of each other’s mouths, but usually they looked for anyone from outside Anaheim who was stupid enough to wander into their town. “We’d go pile into a car and jump over the fence into Disneyland, then look for guys from the [San Fernando] Valley so we could kick their asses, because this was our turf,” Ackerly says. “We were Anaheim guys, and Johnny was the boss. Johnny took over everything. People started calling him ‘the Farmer’ because he gathered everyone around him like Johnny Appleseed. He just grew followers; everyone followed John.”
“John was never anyone I would follow,” insists Edward Padilla, who also befriended Griggs in high school. “He was a sneaky, manipulative little bastard. He would usually pick a fight with someone bigger, and when the fight started, everyone would start coming out of the woodwork.” Padilla’s family moved to Orange County in the early 1950s from South Central Los Angeles. Although his mother was of German-Irish extraction, Padilla’s dad, a construction contractor, was half black and half Native American and commuted back to Los Angeles for work, because, as a nonwhite, he couldn’t get a single job in Orange County. “I had dark skin,” Padilla says. “Because I wasn’t Mexican or white, I wasn’t enough of any one color to be part of either crowd.” When he turned sixteen, Padilla, like everyone else he knew, went to Disneyland to apply for a summer job. “I was the only one not to get hired,” he says. “Anaheim was a different world back then.”
In school, Padilla established himself as the class troublemaker. One day his teacher told him to shut up and sit down. Padilla ignored him, so the teacher grabbed him by the throat and slammed him into his seat. Padilla kicked the teacher in the balls. The teacher went home for the day to nurse his wounds and Padilla ended up being expelled from Anaheim’s public education system. He attended St. Boniface Parish School, a privately run Catholic institution, where he scraped with an older student who made the mistake of insulting Padilla’s mother. “What are you looking at?” the kid asked. “Fuck you,” Padilla answered. “I’ll fuck your mother,” the kid responded. Padilla punched him in the face until the kid was lying on the floor unconscious. “I broke his head open, so they sent me to juvenile hall.”
After he got out, Padilla attended Servite High School, an allboys facility full of public school rejects taught by robe-wearing priests. “We were some rough guys,” recalls Padilla, who by now had bulked up into a muscular athlete. During his sophomore year, Padilla insulted one of his teachers, a former professional football player who promptly slapped him across the face. “You slap like a girl,” Padilla observed. The teacher slapped him again, hard enough to send Padilla reeling from his seat. He picked up his desk and swung it at the teacher. That stunt sent Padilla to another private school in Downey, where he joined the football team and resumed fighting. When he attacked a fellow football player who wound up in the hospital with cracked cheekbones and his jaw wired together, Padilla found himself again expelled and sent back to Anaheim.
At a sock hop during his first year back at Anaheim High School, Padilla danced with a girl who happened to be dating a friend of Griggs’s named Mike Bias. The dance ended and Bias and about ten other angry-looking guys including John Griggs walked up to Padilla. “You fucked up,” Griggs announced. “You don’t mess with our girls. We’re going to kick your ass.” Padilla continued dancing with the girl. When the sock hop ended, he went outside, fists clenched, ready to rumble. Nobody was there. “I was glad,” he says. “Don’t get me wrong. Ten to one didn’t sound fun.” The next day, however, Griggs approached Padilla with an olive branch, telling him that the rest of his gang was planning to ambush him. A few weeks later, Griggs told Padilla the fight would happen that evening in an orange grove outside of town. He drove Padilla to the location and pumped him with information about who was going to try to take him down. He warned Padilla to watch out for a sucker puncher named Franco who planned to wait until Padilla had been worn down fighting other contenders before he stepped in to finish him off.
“I rode out to this grassy meadow in the middle of this orange grove in John’s 1938 Cadillac,” Padilla recalls. “There were probably fifty kids there, mostly guys, standing in a circle.” Padilla cracked his knuckles and readied himself. Without warning, a couple of football players rushed him simultaneously. One of them charged into Padilla, sending him flying backward. He leaned over and sank his teeth into the guy’s back. As Padilla pushed him away, the next jock came flying forward. Suddenly, one of Griggs’s friends, who unbeknownst to Padilla had been appointed by Griggs to intervene, stepped forward to protect him. “Little by little, even though we had different agendas, I realized I was covered in a strange way,” Padilla says. “Johnny was always trying to have a gang of guys and that was the opposite of me. I was a loner, but John needed a lot of people to accomplish what he wanted. He was a masterful politician. He had a gift of gab, and people followed John.”
Padilla and Griggs were both fans of The Untouchables, a television show broadcast on ABC every Thursday night from 1959 to 1963. Based on the memoir by legendary G-man Eliot Ness, the show fictionalized his pursuit of the notorious Chicago mob boss Al Capone. To Padilla, it seemed to provide free lessons in how to operate a successful criminal enterprise. “Capone and his gang were so successful because they didn’t use violence to achieve their aims,” he says. “I watched that show religiously, every Thursday night,” Padilla says. “I wanted to be a successful criminal. My product was going to be pot and pills and I was going to run all of Orange County.” Inspired by the show’s character Arnold “Spatz” Vincent, Padilla went to a thrift store and bought a pair of spats and black and white wing-tipped shoes, slacks, a button-down vest, and a Gant shirt with a button-down collar. Griggs and his crew were dressing up like their favorite gangsters as well. Griggs thought of himself as Capone, and his 1938 Cadillac testified to his admiration for the mob boss.
Eddie Padilla’s dream of becoming Orange County’s biggest pot dealer was deferred by several jail stints, everything from indecent exposure to dealing drugs to assaulting a cop with a wrist pin, a steel bar that when gripped in a tight fist could land a deadly punch. His lawyer persuaded a judge to send him to Atascadero, a hospital for the criminally insane, where Padilla spent the next eighteen months. By now, he was eighteen years old and had knife scars up and down his arms and was missing several front teeth. Padilla’s stint in the loony bin convinced him to leave street fighting behind him. He married his high school sweetheart and rented an apartment with the money he was making selling pot, cheap weed smuggled across the border from Mexico. In those days, marijuana was divided into “lids” which referred to a whole can of Prince Albert brand rolling tobacco, and “fingers,” which was a finger’s width of pot inside the can.
Soon, Padilla wasn’t just dealing, he was supplying pot to other dealers, like Jack “Dark Cloud” Harrington, a street fighter from Westminster. One night, Padilla went over to Harrington’s house to see if he needed any more pot to sell. Sitting in the living room was his old friend John Griggs, whom Padilla hadn’t seen since high school. Griggs was now married, working in the nearby oil fields of Yorba Linda and, like Padilla, dealing a lot of pot.
“I became the biggest dealer in Anaheim, and maybe Garden Grove,” Padilla says. “I had a lot of customers and went around meticulously turning people on to pot. I believed in pot.” One day, Padilla’s pot supplier introduced him to someone who was bringing kilograms of weed across the border every weekend. Now Padilla could sell half pounds and quarter pounds of marijuana at a pop. He went back to all the people he knew, turning them on to pot and looking for the next adventure. “I was twenty years old and figured I needed to go down to Mexico and do something worthy,” he says. “Being an adrenaline junkie, smuggling was appealing to me. I couldn’t wait.”
While Padilla and Griggs conspired to dominate Orange County’s drug trade, Robert Ackerly had taken to hanging out on the beach, drinking beer, smoking pot, and surfing. He and Tommy Tunnell passed most of their time playing hooky from school and hitting the waves down in Huntington Beach. One night, police discovered Ackerly having sex with a runaway girl on the sand. “They said it was immoral for us to have our clothes off at the beach,” he says. “This was Orange County, so I did three months in juvenile hall.”
Shortly after getting out, Ackerly and Tunnell went to a movie in Los Angeles. After the show, someone looked at him the wrong way. Words were exchanged and Ackerly punched the man until blood poured from his mouth and ears. As Ackerly politely explained to the theater manager that the other guy started the fight, the police and an ambulance arrived. The cops arrested him and took him back to jail. “Because of my record, they told me I was going into the service tomorrow. It was either that or stay in jail.”
The following morning, Ackerly volunteered for the air force, then the army and marines, but was rejected each time because of his criminal record. Just when he thought his only option was more jail time, the navy accepted him. “I got busted for getting in a fight and fucking a girl on the beach. They said, ‘Fucking and fighting? You came to the right place, buddy.’” After joining the navy, Ackerly sailed to the South China Sea, where he served as a navigator on the Mauna Koa, an ammunition ship. For three years, he stockpiled ammunition in the Philippines and after the war started in Vietnam, he sailed to the Tonkin Gulf. Ackerly never saw any actual combat, other than the random fight with his shipmates and the time he crossed paths with a group of marines in Cam Ranh Bay, who jumped him and left him bloodied, with two black eyes.
Ackerly visited his first opium den in Hong Kong. He met a group of mercenaries there who said they’d just returned from Burma’s Shan Mountains—part of the “Iron Triangle” of poppy cultivation—where Chinese warlords protected the largest source of heroin in the world. The mercenaries gave Ackerly his first hit of heroin, which he says he refused to inject, but sniffed, an experience that rewarded him with a several-hours-long, Viagra-like erection that he put to use at an adjacent whorehouse. On another leave, Ackerly returned to Orange County, looking for Tommy Tunnell and John Griggs, who had moved next door to a heroin addict named Joe Buffalo (true name, believe it or not), a fearsome fighter who had already done prison time. While Ackerly was overseas, Griggs and Tunnell had fallen in with Buffalo and become heroin addicts, themselves. “John called me a baby killer for being in the navy,” Ackerly says. “Him and his buddies were carrying guns and dressing like gangsters, wearing brimmed hats and all this shit.”
Tunnell told Ackerly that he and Griggs had just learned about a drug more powerful and much stronger than heroin: LSD. Griggs was intrigued by the rumors, and when he found out that a flamboyant Hollywood film producer who lived in a mansion in the hills kept a big jar of it on top of his refrigerator, he set out to get it. According to Eddie Padilla, Griggs dropped by one day, told him of his plan, and asked to borrow a gun for the mission. “I said, ‘No gun,’” Padilla recalls. “‘Just walk in and slap somebody and tell them you want the acid and they’ll give it to you, guaranteed.’” Griggs shook his head and left. He later told Padilla that Tommy’s brother, JC Tunnell, found him a gun. “The two of them went up there with ski masks and stole that acid. It was still legal, but that’s how John got his acid.” That night, Griggs, Tunnell, and Buffalo dressed up in their brimmed gangster hats, donned overcoats, and armed themselves with handguns and shotguns. They drove up to the mansion, barged into a party that was taking place, and stuck their weapons in the face of the hapless producer, who promptly handed over his stash of LSD.
Chuck Mundell, an avid surfer from Hermosa Beach who hung out with Griggs at the Bean Hut and taught him how to surf, had fallen out of touch after Griggs got married and moved next door to Joe Buffalo. “I would go to Hawaii off and on, and only saw John occasionally,” Mundell recalls. “Surfing is all I did in those days. John was shooting heroin with Joe, dealing marijuana, and committing burglaries. After he and Joe and Tunnell robbed those people in Hollywood, they brought back that LSD and took the stuff. They must have had a pretty wild experience, because John told me they went to the guy and gave it back to him. John apologized to him and said he wanted to know where he could get more.”
Griggs also confessed to Mundell that his young son, Jerry, had somehow swallowed part of a vial of the acid he’d stolen at gunpoint. “John told me that Jerry got hold of that blue liquid,” Mundell says. “He was on his rocking horse all night long. He took a whole lot of stuff. He was a little kid, real little, and that was his first trip. He went far.”
Shortly after he discovered LSD, Griggs contracted hepatitis thanks to his heroin habit. He called Mundell to his hospital bed, and claimed to have just undergone a near-death experience that he told Mundell had everything to do with the acid he’d stolen at gunpoint: a life-altering vision that Timothy Leary and other scholars of psychedelic drug phenomena refer to as an “ego-death” trip, where the initiate realizes the insignificance of his or her petty, worldly concerns and feels for the first time a powerful and humbling connection to a greater life force in the universe. Mundell had already dropped acid, but he hadn’t experienced anything like what Griggs described. “Something had happened to John in that hospital, and I don’t know what it was,” Mundell says. “He asked me to come to the hospital and take Christ into my heart with him. I went up there and said, ‘To me, God is something that is inconceivable, so what do you mean?’ And he said, ‘Come with me, and I’ll show you what I mean.’”
As soon as Griggs recovered from his illness, he invited Mundell to drop acid with him. For several hours, Mundell sat in Griggs’s living room, watching what he can only describe as a “color wheel” that rotated in the air. He went into another room, still seeing the wheel, and asked Griggs to try to read his mind. Griggs described exactly the same wheel. “We were communicating,” he said. “It was real, psychic. We went outside and sat in the car and the windshield just melted. The next time I dropped acid, I was with my brother on the beach and there was only one little cloud in the sky and it turned into the face of Jesus Christ. My brother had tears in his eyes and the sky looked like a golden ocean with perfect waves, like heaven.”
Mundell might have been the first person Griggs invited to join with him in an LSD trip, but he certainly wouldn’t be the last. Soon Griggs would recruit everyone he knew—surfers, street fighters, pot dealers and petty crooks—into a tribe of people who viewed acid as a sacrament, a window into God itself, a key to unlock what Aldous Huxley famously called the “doors of perception.” Griggs told anyone who would listen that, through acid, they could create a utopian society that would serve as a demonstration to the entire world of the healing powers of LSD. Although Mundell for one wasn’t sure that Griggs would be able to convince the world that acid was the living incarnation of God, he knew even before he first dropped acid with Griggs, as he watched his friend still clinging to life in his hospital bed, that Griggs would carry out his plan to the finish.
That realization had occurred just as Mundell stood ready to leave Griggs’s hospital room, when a couple of Griggs’s heroin buddies arrived to give him his next fix. “John told them to leave,” Mundell says. “I believe he was told by the higher power that he was going to do this thing—turn people on to God—because he was the person who had the direction to keep it all together—and we were all just part of it.” As Mundell prepared to leave the hospital room, Griggs told him to wait a moment. He closed his eyes and smiled. For a moment, Mundell thought his friend was about to succumb to his heroin-induced hepatitis. But Griggs wasn’t dead yet. His eyes were filled with love and a strange and mystic energy. He was facing Mundell as he spoke, but looking right through him. “It’s God,” Griggs exclaimed. “It’s God.”
Bobbing in the calm water of the channel about a hundred yards from the protected side of the jetty was the palest redneck cracker Travis Ashbrook had ever seen. The man was stretched back in an inner tube, his feet splayed out, with one hand resting behind his crew-cut head and the other gripping a Budweiser. On the other side of the jetty, twenty-foot waves crashed into the southernmost shore of Newport Beach’s Balboa Peninsula, an infamous surf spot locals call the Wedge. Hundreds of people from all over Orange County had gathered at the Wedge on this sunny summer day in 1965 to watch their foolhardy friends try to ride the spectacularly violent waves, which broke too close to shore for regular surfboards—only bodyboards could handle this quick action.
Ashbrook stood on the jetty, watching bodyboarders being tossed willy-nilly in the water. Suddenly he recognized another spectator: John Griggs, the notorious leader of Anaheim’s Street Sweepers. “John was a legend,” says Ashbrook, who grew up in Rossmoor, a middle-class suburb a few towns away from Anaheim. “The Street Sweepers were a car club, but nowadays they’d be called a gang. They liked to crash parties and start fights on weekend nights. They would always send John in because he was the littlest guy and someone would hassle him and then the big guys would jump in.”
As Ashbrook started walking back to the beach, Griggs and his friends began hurling rocks at the pale man on the inner tube who was drifting peacefully in the channel. “This guy was mayonnaise white, what we called a ‘flatlander,’ a hick, some guy from godknows-where, but who definitely wasn’t from the beach and wasn’t from Southern California,” Ashbrook recalls. Instead of trying to paddle away, the man ditched his beer, jumped out of the inner tube, and swam over to the jetty, rocks still pelting the water all around him. Griggs and his pals continued to hurl insults. “This guy was all by himself, but he came up to John, and John beat him up. John was real quick. That didn’t take but a minute.”
Ashbrook was impressed that Griggs handled the fight on his own, without any backup, even though he had friends standing nearby. “I wasn’t a fighter, but everyone did it now and then, because you didn’t want to get branded a chicken,” he says. “It’s better to start a fight and lose than not fight. There were only a couple of us surfers in school, so we were outcasts, and people tried to jump me and cut my hair.” Ever since junior high school, when Ashbrook started surfing and growing his hair down below his shoulders, he’d had to fight every once in a while because he stood out. “I started surfing just as I was getting ready to go to high school, and nothing mattered after that.”
Ashbrook surfed all up and down the coast, all the way north to Santa Cruz and down to Baja California, but generally it was the Trestles, a beautiful stretch of beach between San Clemente and the marine base at Camp Pendleton, widely believed to be a world-class surf spot. He repaired his boards in his mother’s garage and then began shaping new ones for himself and his friends. By the time he graduated from high school in 1963 he’d rented a storefront in Sunset Beach where he made and sold surfboards and surfing gear. He also worked part-time at the Golden Bear, a trendy nightclub in Huntington Beach, and was a regular at Balboa’s Rendezvous Ballroom, where Dick Dale and the Del-Tones—whose hit 1963 instrumental “Miserlou” later achieved fame in Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction—played every weekend.
A fat guy nicknamed the Buddha whom Ashbrook met at the Rendezvous gave Ashbrook his first joint. “He hung out in Seal Beach and had this big old van and all these chicks with him all the time,” Ashbrook recalls. “I didn’t like having to pay for pot. It cost ten dollars an ounce in those days, which was a lot of money.” Ashbrook surfed the beaches near Tijuana, where a kilogram of weed could be had for twenty dollars. A Mexican dishwasher who worked at the Golden Bear told Ashbrook he knew pot dealers in Tijuana, and agreed to travel south with him to arrange a deal. The dishwasher drove Ashbrook across the border, and once they reached Tijuana, they circled around town looking for cabdrivers. “We cruised around for a while and a cabdriver scored us a kilo of weed in a big brown paper bag,” he says. Then Ashbrook and his friend drove east to Tecate, a border town in the mountains about an hour’s drive from Tijuana.
In those days, there were no fences to demarcate remote stretches of the U.S.–Mexican border between Tijuana and Mexicali. The crossing at Tecate consisted of a tiny hut that was unguarded at night, with only a padlocked chain stretching across the road. Ashbrook and his friend drove up to the Mexican side of the border, parked their car, and crept out about a hundred yards to the American side of the road, found a culvert, and threw the bag of weed into the ditch. Then they drove back to Tijuana, crossed the border, headed east and drove back south to Tecate, down to the culvert, grabbed the weed, and drove home. In the next few weeks, Ashbrook repeated the journey, smuggling a few kilograms at a time from Mexico to Orange County simply by tossing a bag of weed over a fence in the middle of the desert.
After he broke up with his girlfriend, she called the cops and told them about his smuggling activity. “They barged right in without a warrant,” he says. “They went right to my bedroom, found a couple of baggies, and busted me. I was in jail for eighteen days until my mom bailed me out. I ended up getting three years of probation because I was attending Orange Coast College and I had my own surf shop.” The downside of being released so quickly, Ashbrook says, was that many of his friends assumed he was a snitch. How else could one explain his lenient treatment? But one person who didn’t seem to harbor any suspicions was Griggs. After bumping into each other at the Wedge, the pair struck up a friendship. Although they’d never spoken so much as a word to each other in high school, Griggs was impressed with Ashbrook’s status as one of the best surfers in Orange County. They were also both rapidly working their way up the ladder in the county’s marijuana trade—and were even being supplied by the same dealer.
One day, Ashbrook gave the dealer money for a kilogram of pot. When he went to pick up his drugs, the dealer told him all he had available at the moment was LSD. Ashbrook had read a few books about psychedelics and was curious to try it. He dropped his first acid that summer after reading The Psychedelic Experience by Timothy Leary, Richard Alpert, and Ralph Metzner. According to Metzner, he and Leary got the idea to write The Psychedelic Experience during a conversation they had while in Mexico. Leary had spoken with Aldous Huxley, the author of Brave New World and a proponent of LSD who would drop acid on his deathbed, and Huxley had told him that the world needed a manual for taking psychedelics. Leary told Metzner that the manual should be based on The Tibetan Book of the Dead. “Tim said, ‘Let’s take the text of the Tibetans and strip the particular cultural and religious language and rewrite it as a manual,’” Metzner now recalls. “We started working on that and tested it out, did sessions with each other, testing the model. We were exploring the whole idea of arranging a setting to enhance spiritual experiences for healthy people, not patients or criminals, but ourselves.”
“That book was all mumbo jumbo to me,” says Ashbrook. “It scared the hell out of me. There was a period of time when I refused to read it because it was just too far out. When I read that book, strange things started happening to me, intense things, bad trips. The problem with psychedelics is that the vessel can only take so much, and as your inner vessel grows, it can obtain more of the light, but if your ego is still the main focus of your life, that light will black you out and it will kill you.” Ashbrook had more important things to attend to that summer than losing his ego: his surf business and his growing side career as a pot dealer. He was also in love, and in August 1965, he got married. Ashbrook’s pot dealer attended the wedding and told Ashbrook to stop by Griggs’s house in Garden Grove.
“He told me that John had a present for me,” he recalls. “So on the way to our honeymoon, we stopped by. John broke out a bottle of champagne and gave me a shoebox full of a pound of weed. It was totally clean, ready to roll, and we didn’t even know each other that well, but there was some kind of connection, and from there our friendship grew.” Underlying their growing friendship was Griggs’s amazement that Ashbrook had taken LSD but, unlike him, hadn’t experienced a profoundly spiritual sense of self-awareness. He promised Ashbrook that if they dropped acid together, he’d see the light soon enough. “Maybe I was some kind of challenge to him,” Ashbrook says. “His gangster days were behind him. He had already experienced his personal ego death, his meeting with the forces that be, and he’d reconciled his path. He was sure of his mission and that I was part of it.”
Unlike Ashbrook, Eddie Padilla had yet to realize he was part of John Griggs’s mission. The first acid he dropped was a vial of clear liquid he’d obtained from a friend. “I used to take a handful of reds—speed—to hallucinate,” he says. “It was entertaining, so I couldn’t wait to try acid, because everyone said it made you hallucinate.” After drinking a vial’s worth of the liquid, he got in his car and drove back to his apartment along Lincoln Avenue. “I had been on Lincoln Avenue ten thousand times in my life, but it was like I had never been there before,” he says. “It was incredibly clear. I could see all these traffic lights down the road, off into infinity.” Somehow, Padilla managed to stay focused enough to drive to The Stables, Anaheim’s rowdiest dive bar, where he encountered Griggs’s friends, Gordon Sexton, Mark Stanton, and Mike Randall. “As soon as I showed up, I just started cracking up laughing. I rolled out of the door into the alley.” Everyone at the bar had already dropped acid and knew exactly what was going through Padilla’s mind. “They were all laughing,” Padilla says. “You took the acid! You took the acid.”
A few days later, Padilla drove over to his friend Jack Harrington’s house and took another dose of LSD. He and Harrington went back to the bar. Padilla recalls that what was on his mind had little to do with spirituality. “I thought I could see through all the girls’ clothes,” he says. “And the band that was playing had this energy. I could feel the energy. It was like being in kindergarten.” When Padilla dropped Harrington off at his house, Griggs came walking up to him. “It’s all about God, man. It’s all about the Bible. That’s where it’s at, man!” he declared. Padilla could hardly believe his ears. “What the fuck is he talking about?” he asked himself. “Holy crap. John Griggs talking about the Bible. This is fucking absurd.”
Padilla didn’t think much of LSD at the time. It seemed like a fun trip, but he was much more interested in popping pills. Besides dealing pot, he was busy supplying amphetamine tablets to Anaheim biker gangs like the Mongols. “I was an extremely dangerous person,” he says. “Just a really rotten individual. I wouldn’t piss on my own head if I were on fire. I had no scruples. I had guns. I’d stabbed people in self-defense, and I wouldn’t hesitate to shoot someone in the shoulder just to let it be known who I was.” He’d been married for only a year, but his wife had already left him. “She had good reason to leave me,” he allows. “I was sleeping with five other women in my apartment complex.”
Padilla asked a couple of mutual friends what had happened to Griggs. “Oh, he took some acid,” they explained. “Oh, my god,” Padilla thought. “There might be something to this.” Later that week, Padilla joined Griggs and his wife, Harrington, a firefighter named Lyle “Lyncho” German, and several other friends, in an acid-dropping session at Mount Palomar, a 6,100-foot peak in northern San Diego County. Their caravan of cars drove up the mountain at sunrise. Padilla began to feel uncomfortable. “I was a city boy and had never been to the mountains,” he says. “I hated the snow. I never went hiking in the hills.” Wanting to get back to town as soon as possible, Padilla insisted they drop their acid immediately. “We each took two capsules of white powder and kept driving up the mountain along this windy road. Suddenly I felt this pressure to lean back. It was really different than anything I had experienced before.”
As Padilla stretched back in his seat, feeling a tremendous weight upon his body, he closed his eyes. Someone read aloud from The Psychedelic Experience: “That which is called ego death is coming to you. You are about to come face to face with the clear light of reality.” Padilla says he lost consciousness, and when he awoke, he found himself alone in a forest, surrounded by majestic trees. “That’s when I realized I was dead,” Padilla says. He wandered into the woods and encountered Griggs and the rest of the group, sitting in a circle. “I thought they were all dead, and we were all in heaven.”
Padilla felt too weak to stand up. “Lyncho helped me back to the car and told me to lie down, so I laid down in the backseat and everything just really went off,” he says. “The light came on in my head.” Padilla likens the experience to a switch going off in his brain that unleashed the power of the universe, the light of the creator, the energy that ties together all living things. “It traveled through my body, into my bloodstream,” he recalls. “It was just incredible.”
It was also Padilla’s twenty-first birthday. He had to get back down the mountain because he’d planned a big party for all his pill-popping friends. But when he walked into the door of his Anaheim apartment that evening, nothing looked familiar to him. “It was like whoever lived there wasn’t me,” he says. “I had no idea who that person was.” He looked around his apartment in disgust. On the wall hung a velvet painting with a cartoonish depiction of the Devil amid a cornucopia of hypodermic needles and champagne glasses. A stack of pornography lay next to his bed; on the coffee table sat a big salad bowl full of speed—party treats for Padilla’s birthday celebration.
Padilla grabbed the salad bowl and walked to his bathroom. “I dumped all the bennies, and yellows and reds in the toilet,” he says. “I kept the pot—nothing wrong with pot.” He went back to his living room, sat down on the couch, and thought about what he had just done. “I’m sitting there, just thinking, ‘Where do I go now?’” Before he could answer his own question, guests began to arrive. Padilla felt like a stranger in his own house. “‘Everybody has to leave,’” he announced. “I shut down the party.” The next day, Padilla and Harrington drove around all day in Harrington’s Porsche, selling pot. When Padilla got home, he sat down on his deck and started cleaning his oven grill, wondering how his life had gotten so out of control that he was sleeping with five different women. “I’m fucking scum,” he told himself. “I ain’t doing this shit anymore.”
As he sat there scrubbing away his acid hangover, a man walked around the corner of Padilla’s apartment building and introduced himself. The stranger was wearing a black leather jacket and looked like a Chicago hit man. He had a pockmarked face, stood over six feet tall, and must have weighed at least 275 pounds. “Hey, are you Eddie?” he asked. “Some friends of yours told me I could buy some weed from you.” Immediately, Padilla knew the man was trouble—either an informant or an undercover cop. “Sure,” he answered. “But I ran out. I have some coming in later this afternoon. Come back around seven P.M. and buy whatever you want.” When the man left, Padilla telephoned Harrington and told him the cops had just been to his house and he needed to get out of town.
Padilla’s timing couldn’t have been better. Harrington told him that he and Griggs and the rest of their friends were moving out of Anaheim. Griggs had suffered a fire at his house—incense candles that had tipped over—and needed a new place to live.
Anaheim was getting too hot, as Padilla’s own experience with the presumed narc seemed to indicate. The next morning, Padilla and Harrington moved into a cabin in Silverado Canyon, a wooded retreat northeast of town. John and Carol Griggs relocated to a large stone building in nearby Modjeska Canyon. “We were all out in the country now,” Padilla concludes. “It was a perfect hideout.”
ORANGE SUNSHINE. Copyright © 2010 by Nicholas Schou. All rights reserved. For information, address St. Martin’s Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.