The Watts Riots

The Watts Riots

I spent the riots in a penthouse at the Chateau Marmont with this ex-philosophy major from Stanford whose family owned all the more oily pieces of land in Arizona, Mexico and California and who had taken up the profession of herding cattle. He was a Stanford Cowboy, is how I always thought of him in my mind. He showed me his spurs so I’d believe him and his saddle bags. In his saddle bags he kept his prize possessions, books on magic and the works of Alistair Crowley. His horse must have felt like a roving library. The police shot this guy in a car while he was taking his wife to the hospital to have a baby just as Nicky, the Stanford Cowboy, must have been checking into the Chateau that evening, having driven from Indio, the desert where the Santa Ana winds came from.

The guy getting shot in Watts made the winds, I think, like escaping gas, explode.

L.A. was closed.

There were no cars out on the streets. Everyone was home watching tv, where Joe Pine had dumped a satchelful of guns out onto his podium and explained that he was not about to let anyone try and get his stuff away from him, never mind his wife and daughters.

Nicky laughed soundlessly and begged me to drive with him down to Watts. The tv was with its back to the French windows which overlooked the city, and tiny needles of smoke arose in the distant distance. What Nicky thought was so funny was that “they” were shooting at planes with .22s.

“Are you crazy?” I wondered. I’d only just met him once the riots had started. We’d been alone outside at the Four Oaks Bar, an artists’ bar in Beverly Glen and I’d assumed he was an interchangeable Californian. Even if he did have these huge magic books from the Horace Greeley Mann collection or something and even if he was a cowboy. We were drinking bourbon and eating potato chips, delivered from the Liquor Locker right next to the Chateau. It was nice spending the Riots in a penthouse. It seemed asking for trouble to go watch them shooting at planes.

“At night we saw a couple nakedly entwined in passion two stories below us, but we slept in separate beds and changed channels to mostly watch old movies. We only turned on the Riots during the commercials.

“Tom Wolfe’s here,” Nicky said.

“Yeah?” I said. Nicky had gone to Schwab’s for magazines and so knew what was going on outside the room in our immediate vicinity rather than just what we could see on tv.

At first, when I’d first started talking to Nicky out in the winds that smelled of eucalyptus and jasmine in Beverly Glen, I’d thought he was an actor whose series had just been canceled. He had eyes of canceled blue and he was too handsome and too tan and too tall to be much else. When it turned out he was the heir of a huge California fortune, I took his word for it.

“Why are you a cowboy then?” was all I’d asked.

“Oh, I don’t like cows,” he explained.

“Well, why then?”

“Horses. I want to find out as much as I can about horses before I start racing them.”

“Race horses cost a fortune.”

“I know where I can get one cheap for $60,000.”

“Oh.”

Eve's Hollywood

Eve Babitz is the author of several books of fiction, including Sex and Rage: Advice to Young Ladies Eager for a Good TimeL.A. Woman; and Black Swans: Stories. Her nonfiction works include Fiorucci, The Book and Two by Two: Tango, Two-Step, and the L.A. Night. She has written for publications including Ms. and Esquire and in the late 1960s designed album covers for the Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, and Linda Ronstadt. Her novel Slow Days, Fast Company: The World, the Flesh, and L.A. (originally published in 1977) is forthcoming from NYRB Classics.

Excerpted from Eve’s Hollywood by Eve Babitz. Reprinted with permission from NYRB Classics.

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