All Hands in the Piggy Bank: California’s Red Light District and the Money Whores at Work



Illustrations by Yuri Elvin (Forth Artist)

Tending rattlesnakes is a tricky business, but an important one to any man looking for answers. Grab the neck. Control the head. And urine does not kill the venom in their bites, though for some reason, the mescaline-whiskey hangover confused my mind into thinking that all slithering poisons can be cured with the antidote to a jellyfish sting.

I’d lost track of time certainly, but I was half-positive it hadn’t been more than a week since I’d made my way east from L.A. to Indio, California for the annual Coachella music festival—three days and nights during the last weekend in April of total energy mayhem and sonic weirdness; vast oceans of skin and faces and beat-dilated eyes; heavy jams and bass from bands across the board like The Chemical Brothers, Glasvegas, Yeah Yeah Yeah’s, Fleet Foxes, The Killers, and Leonard Cohen; whippets in the parking lot at 2 a.m.; all-night desert snow-parties poolside at the Ace Hotel; girls named Annie or Jade or Osa in bikinis made of neon and moon glasses much too large for their faces; hazy, strange-glaze dawns in all directions. When it ended and the crowds dissolved, I was among the few who refused to believe it was over. I’d gotten hooked into some sort of free-soul lunar trip, living on the grounds owned by an Indian I’d met one night during a party at the Anthem Ranch mansion. His given name is far too difficult to pronounce, and certainly too confusing to spell, so we ended up calling him Gonjo, who—after a night of firewater and cactus mud—offered me free board on the land he inherited from his Cahuilla ancestors in exchange for my help on his growing rattlesnake farm. The farm was on the edge of a fan palm oasis called Andreas Canyon, just outside downtown Palm Springs.

Why not, I thought.

It was dusk on a Monday (I’d found out later) when Jason [Forth Editor] called. He wanted 5000 words on California’s spending crisis, and he needed me at the State’s capitol for the results of the Special Election for Propositions 1A-1F, taking place on May 19th…which was tomorrow, he informed me.

Jesus, I thought! How the hell long had I been stuck on this snake farm in the desert?

Jason had already booked me a suite at the Radisson in Sacramento and scheduled an interview at 11 a.m. on Tuesday with Teresa Casazza, President of the California Taxpayer’s Association, regarding her organization’s endorsement of Prop 1A. No sense in sleeping now, I figured. I’d already been up for 36 hours on some sort of peyote-snake venom hybrid tea that Gonjo drinks like a staffer on coffee. At that point, I was still seeing vibrations and movement in the ground, which probably didn’t actually exist…but there would be no trouble driving, that much I was sure of.


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