Excerpt from Jeff Ragsdale’s “All I Need is Plutonium”

I walked by Alexander Hamilton’s grave on Wall St. and bums piss all over it.

I have no memory of approaching the couple on La Brea. I remember bits and pieces of walking with the gun—blurs. The police report reads I stopped the couple and asked, “Where’s Hollywood?” They told me I was going the right direction but it would be a very long walk. Apparently I thanked them and attempted giving them money. They refused the money so I pulled out the gun. They claim I didn’t point it at them (I’d still be in jail) just waved it around.

I got the gun right after leaving Bret Easton Ellis’s condo.

I asked the porn star James Deen after he exited the bathroom if he wanted coke. I was bluffing thinking he had it and was most likely in a good mood from just doing some and might say, I got some, good shit, here, and hand me his baggy. Instead he said no thanks. His girlfriend, Stoya, was drinking red wine on the balcony and enlightening me on porn hate mail. She said she’s used to Christian fanatics threatening her for being a porn performer but now even Muslims. “If you’re threatening to behead someone for fucking on film at least have the decency to spell shit correctly,” she exclaimed and lit another cigarette.

No one seemed to have coke. I ended up talking to this chubby, balding man with a black goatee, George. He was looking too and said he had Adderall at his place. Did I want to go get it with him? Yeah. He ordered an Uber. In the Prius he told me he’d won fourteen Emmys.

His condo was spacious, modern, full of packing boxes. There’s vodka in the freezer, he told me. I made a couple drinks and sat at the kitchen table. He brought out Adderall. I ground a couple and snorted them. He next had an Emmy in his hand (which I thought tacky). Kind of slammed it down on the table. I looked at it. Wasn’t impressed. Next thing I know he has a gun. I’m thinking what the fuck? No one’s ever pulled a gun of me. I tell him it better not be loaded. He says it not and pulls out the clip smirking. I begin glancing around at all the boxes. All kinds of shit’s racing through my mind. Am I gonna end up in those boxes? Did he stalk me at Bret’s? Was I easy prey because I wanted coke and was pretty wasted? He sets the gun next to the Emmy. Comes back with an FBI badge, says he works for the government. He’s not FBI. Leaves again and I’m thinking he’s some psycho—off his meds. Definitely dangerous. I’m beginning to really panic. Does anybody know I’m with this guy? Anybody see me leave Bret’s with him? I remember saying bye to Bret, telling him I might be back later. Was George with me then? I’m sitting at his kitchen table—full-on panic now—convinced he’s in the other room getting bullets for the gun. I’m gonna die. This’s it. This’s how it’s ending. With some fat slob shooting me and stuffing my body parts in boxes. In a flash I grab the gun off the table and run out the door. I don’t say anything. Just run. Everything’s blurry. Hazy. I remember asking people, “Which way’s Hollywood?” Tracers swirling about their fingertips, bottle rockets exploding, M-80s. I have to admit I felt a sense of power with the gun. I wanted to get home and show my girlfriend. People were running and screaming. It was Fourth of July and I was blacking out. I have no idea how long I was running around with the gun. The couple (I pulled the gun on) called 911 and gave my description: tall, thin white guy in all black. Flashing red lights. Drunk as I am I know I’m fucked. Cops. I have a gun. Police report reads responding officers Velasco #39313 and Arreola #40617 exit their vehicle and pursue me on foot. Apparently I’m running “sideways and weaving”. They observe me throw a gun into bushes. Later, while handcuffed to a Cedars-Sinai hospital bed, the officers tell me I’m lucky I didn’t get shot: “You had a gun in your hand.” A sergeant at the Wilshire Police Station says the same: “You’re extremely lucky ya didn’t get shot.” In jail inmates tell me if I was black or Hispanic I’d be dead.

Officer Velasco tasered me. I remember a split second of being on my stomach, somebody holding me down, yelling. My first reaction when I wake in the hospital bed is to run. Jump up and get the fuck out. I’m piecing it all together. I want to get home to my girlfriend and forget this Fourth of July. I didn’t bring my wallet out with me (I lose wallets) so I have no ID, meaning the officers at the foot of the bed have no idea who I am. I’m not handcuffed at this point so if I can just get out of here this whole thing might just go away. I’m certain I can outrun officers in bulky uniforms. I don’t even realize I have an IV in my arm. The officers are texting/surfing on their phones. I make no movements. Eyes barely cracked. This is it. Catch them off guard. Jump up and run. Run for your fucking life! Mandatory minimum for a gun! You’re going to prison. Eventually Arreola realizes I’m awake and handcuffs me to the bed, thwarting the great escape. I begin barraging them. What am I being charged with? They’re talkative since they want a statement. I know I’m fucked—self-incrimination’s the last thing on my mind. My goal’s to talk my way out of this—anyway I can. If I tell them exactly what happened maybe they’ll let me go. They’ll see how psycho George is. I ask why they stopped me. They got a call about a man with a gun: “You fit the description.” “What happened when you tasered me?” Some people aren’t affected. They exclaim: “It took ya right down.” There’s a sense of pride in the way they say this. They ask about the gun? Where’d I get it? Is it mine? I tell them what happened. I was at a party in West Hollywood. Hadn’t drunk in three months (I’ve been trying to quit). I get wasted pretty quickly. I leave with a guy I just met to get Adderall (I don’t tell the cops this but every time I get drunk I want coke or Adderall). At his condo he pulls out a gun and I’m in fear for my life and grab it and run. They ask, suspiciously, “Whyja take the gun? Why not just run out?” I tell them he was completely insane: “Claiming he was FBI and I was certain he was getting bullets for the gun.” (Someone in jail says, Whoooa, cowboy. What if the dude’s like some special-effects movie guy? He had an Emmy right? Maybe it was a prop gun? The whole thing a gag? Fake FBI badges? C’mon, maybe he wanted to fuck ya and it was some sort of erotic game, à deux with shiny pistol?) Police ask George’s last name. No idea. Address? I tell them it’s on La Brea near Wilshire. “He ordered an Uber,” I say with desperation in my voice. “We can trace the Uber from Bret’s on Doheny?” Obviously my answers sound highly suspect. I ask them to please call my girlfriend (not really girlfriend, we’re broke up but still living together). “Lisa’s going to be insanely worried,” I say. “I haven’t called or come home.” Lisa didn’t think it was a good idea for me to go to Bret’s in the first place. She thought I’d be too tempted to drink.

At Glass House a female officer flags a guard and asks if there are any pants for me. My senses are off but I must reek of piss. The guard takes me to a corner area and gets me a pair of light-blue pants from a cabinet They feel like paper. He warns me: “No screwin’ around.” I probably do look dangerous. Taser hole in back of my shirt. Hands cut up. Foam on the corners of my mouth. I take my pants and underwear off and place them on the floor. I slide the jail pants on. He points to my pants and underwear: “Ya wamme ta toss ‘em?” “Yeah.” I just bought the pants yesterday at “Out of the Closet”, a thrift store on Sunset. I’m led to the felony tank. Next door’s the misdemeanor tank. All inmates in the felony tank want to be in the misdemeanor tank. It’s a step up. The tank’s about twenty by twenty, concrete block construction. Light-gray walls. Steel benches and toilet-sink combo in back. This’s where I first hear the term “courtesy flush”. When defecating in an enclosed room with twenty men watching, inmates perpetually yell, “Courtesy flush! Courtesy flush!” Which means flush the toilet every one or two seconds to help limit odors. I’ll be honest I was frightened. I didn’t know what to expect. This was Los Angeles. Not Washington state where I grew up. People get killed in these jails. There are riots. Gang wars. Fires. This screaming skinhead—at least six-six 300 hundred—enters the tank for terrorist threats. I’ve never been around a skinhead. He’s heavily tatted. Multiple swastikas, one prominently on front of his neck. Apparently his girl called for a wellness check (“because she’s a fuckin’ kike bitch!”). Vort (that’s what he goes by: I assume short for Vortex because he’s such a whirling mass of Nazi) anyway, Vort gets arrested because he refuses to answer his door and is yelling and threatening EMTs, “Fuck off my property! Bury ya muthafuckas! Arsenal here!” EMTs call police who arrive and break down the door with a battering ram. Vort fights, loses, gets carpet-burned, then hogtied. His face’s mangled, a swollen abrasion—like they dragged him across the floor by his Nazi beard. “Didn’t do a thing man!” He keeps yelling. “On my couch! That bitch! That fuckin’ bitch! I’ma kill ‘er! Kill ‘er!” E’twaun, late twenties, black, is in for hit-and-run. Of course he didn’t do it. “My car doesn’t even have a dent. Couldn’t of been me, man. Neighbors set me up. Whole thing setup job.” E’twaun’s mother and sister are back in North Carolina working on his bail. I call Lisa collect. She’s been up all night in shock. She’s begun smoking again. I tell her repeatedly: Get a hold of my brother and get me the fuck out of here. My bail’s $35,000. She’ll call second she’s off with me. She says she’s very worried. I tell her what happened. All she can say is, “Jeeeff … Jeeeff,” softly. I can’t shake the thought that I’m going to be a convicted felon. I begin speaking to inmates in an attempt to get out of my head. There are signs on the doors: “If you’re thinking of suicide, tell someone”. Ian, in for heroin possession, keeps telling me, “Dude you have awesome veins.” His story’s almost as fucked up as mine. He leaves rehab after only two days—fuck this!—drives straight to Skid Row and scores H. He’s shooting up in the dealer’s tent. The needle’s in his arm when a cop bursts in, gun drawn. He tells me he’s going the diversionary program, Prop 47, basically trading jail for rehab. He wants to hide the arrest from his parents. He’s a young hipster from Sherman Oaks. Looks like an emaciated Jesus. Black clothes, combat boots. Throws up in the toilet, is panting, sneezing incessantly. I watch dozens of inmates “kicking”. They shit themselves, shake, foam at the mouth, attempt to sleep on the concrete floor, a roll of toilet paper as pillow.

About two hundred of us are herded into an immense institutional-green holding tank following our arraignments. They feed us peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and petite bags of sugar cookies. We use our sandwich bags for cups. It’s difficult drinking out of a plastic bag. An acquired skill. I have to go to the bathroom but there’s no toilet paper. My system’s in such shock I hadn’t defecated in three days. I tell another inmate this, one of the white guys, and he says he hadn’t either: “Shock, bro. Shock.” He keeps reiterating that we really didn’t belong here. He’s in for felony domestic violence. Earlier that day I told two members of the South Siders about a bail service my brother found. It was approximately a third cheaper than others. They were grateful for the tip. When they see me on the toilet with no toilet paper they promptly send one of their underlings with a roll of toilet paper. I’m grateful. I’m told my first day in jail to be “exceptionally nice to everyone, guards and inmates, no matter how shitty you feel.” You’re told to keep your opinions to yourself in jail, mind your own business. What you get is an over-the-top niceness. Inmates open doors for you. They call you sir. They don’t reach across you: that’s uncivilized. Inmates act the way their mothers and grandmothers taught them, proving they’re capable of acting that way: kind, humble. But on the outside: “Fuck you lookin’ at? Motherfucker I kill you!”




About Jeff Ragsdale

Jeff Ragsdale is the author of Jeff, One Lonely Guy. His book, All I Need Is Plutonium, will be released in 2016. His work’s been featured in The New Yorker, The New York Times, New York Post, New York Magazine, The Daily Beast, CBS News, O, The Oprah Magazine. He’s made television appearances on Inside Edition, The Jeff Probst’s Show, CBS News Sunday Morning, Last Comic Standing, Head Games. He currently stars in the award-winning documentary, Hotline.
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