Vanity Fair profiles The eXile: "Gutsy...visceral...serious journalism...abusive, defamatory...poignant...paranoid...and right!"
MSNBC: Mark Ames and Yasha Levine
Broke the Koch Brothers' Takeover of America
Featured / March 19, 2010
By John Dolan


This is the second installment of John Dolan’s work-in-progress, “Stupid, Or How To Lose Money Running A Speedlab.” Read part one here.

If it hadn’t been for Bongoburgers there would have been no speedlab for me. Bongoburgers was my first gang, my first friends. It was happiness, and that happiness gave me the strength, the ego, to try to become a bad person.

It’s funny about happiness; I have no problem going on and on about misery, but it makes me very queasy to admit I was happy in the Bongoburgers Era.

Bongoburgers was a fast food place on Dwight Way run by Iranian refugees. Paul and Terry, the two main people in our group, split the rent on the apartment above the grill, so we called their place “Bongoburgers.” It stood for the fact that there were a lot of us and we were all welcome there.

My in with the Bongoburgers people was this poetry workshop. That’s where I met Paul and Heidi. Heidi thought my lyrics about the glory of nuclear war were “ironic” and therefore cool; Paul just plain agreed with them.

Paul was a hyper pseudo-surfer, a hardcore Mater Dei Phalangist from Orange County. His proudest boast was that he had once made Norman Lear’s daughter cry. Norman Lear was the bastard who produced All in the Family, and that Family looked and talked exactly like my family, and America laughed at them every week. Why’d he have to hire Carroll O’Connor? That was the question, mumbled very, very quietly at the TV at home.

So Paul took me into his gang, the Bongoburgers group. There was an initiation, of course, and it was rough, getting sneered at on a half-mile walk through Berkeley by Paul and his even meaner, even more rightwing friend Michael. But then I actually went over to their place and had burritos, the best burritos ever cooked, and went to San Francisco and popped a qualuude, my first and last, which made everything easy and funny, even getting honked at stalled at the base of Coit Tower. Paul wanted to go get in a real fight while we were over there, because I was a punk. But of course I was a fake, shy, polite punk, incapable of starting trouble, so Paul decided to hurry up the process by heckling Fast Floyd. Fast Floyd mumbled, “C’m’up here an’I’ll show ya” and Paul did, bounced up all eager, and Floyd popped the bottom of his electric guitar right in Paul’s eager face, blood and everything. Paul was delighted, though not so much when his two supposedly mean friends and bodyguards, me and Michael, couldn’t manage more than going over to Floyd at the break and standing menacingly. We didn’t even do the menacing standing very well. It was embarrassing.

Just boys. I was an oldish boy already, 23, but you have to be a boy sometime. There were three years then, of equally silly and chivalrous expeditions, amateurish drug buys, dilettante decadence, and we were friends. If you’ve never had a gang, a gang is the best thing in the world. They liked me. I could go up the stairs to the apartment above Bongoburgers any time I wanted. We were in favor of each other, while naturally slagging anyone who happened to be out of the room. All part of the delight of being in a gang.

These people who talk up the loner cult—if they’re just teenagers, I can forgive them but when adults do it I begin to think of Sade’s catalogues of methods for correcting error. Most of the people who talk that way look to me like they’ve never spent a decade reading in their rooms because there was nothing else to do. That’s lonerdom. And it makes you stupid as well as wretched. Loners are idiots, they have no clue what’s going on around them. Me, I love gangs. I love uniforms. That was where punk came in: I wanted to be loyal to punk to the death, and it irked me that there wasn’t a military wing. It would have been great to die with that soundtrack, all full of some overpriced drugs, in proper leather uniform.

It would have been much, much better, in fact. Hey, I still had a chin-line at that age; I’d have made a great, soldierly coffin. And none of the bad stuff I did would have had time to happen.

Heidi had marked me out from the first day of that workshop, but she was a pro, took her time. A year she took convincing me that she wasn’t the predator everyone said but merely misunderstood, an oxymoron, see, a budding muse or something in the body of an uber-groupie.

Not that she wasted her time while working long-term on the Dolan project. She had other suckers to fry. During the workshop she was with a dumb rich guy, but of course I didn’t make any connections, didn’t click that she might want money and Jaguars and coke and all that. I was sure money was silly, a consolation prize for those who didn’t have a shot at glory.

Then came the night she buzzed herself up to my mouldy rent-controlled apartment on Dwight, pretend-angry that I hadn’t invited her up, and I abandoned mere happiness for bliss—always a bad trade, but you don’t know that till it’s too late. Till you’re dead.

It went bad fast. She took me up, and then she put me down. A footnote in her picaresque narrative, and burial in the heart of a glacier for me. Unthinkable, because it never happened in the movies, to go from lonely misery to happiness and then back? No hero ever went back. Unbearable, unthinkable.

In the murk and chill of that jettisoning I somehow allowed Paul’s victim writer girlfriend Marian to jump me one night. It wasn’t lust; if it was lust I could have forgiven myself in a second. My body would have declared an absolute amnesty. It wasn’t lust. It was her face when I said, “No, we can’t.” Her face collapsed like the end of the world. I thought it was the end of the world. I didn’t know then that she did that face collapse thing about five times a day. I thought the world would end if I said no. So I said yes, and bla bla bla, Paul found out, the guy who taught me how to exist, and fled Berkeley to work minimum wage at a bookstore back in Orange County and I got Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, three years of deserved nonstop coughing agony, and nobody would hire me because my thesis was about Sade and…and…and therefore when Butler said we could make money running a speed lab I jumped at the idea. Not so much the money as the crime.

I knew Butler was a bad person; that was the point. He slunk around the edges of the Bongoburgers crowd, avoiding Paul’s sharp tongue (that Paul never used on me) but dangling after the weaker members of the group, notably me and Doug. He knew fellow trash when he smelled it.

He had this idea. Saved it for when Terry was out of the apartment. Terry never even locked the door; we all went in whenever we were on Dwight, threw darts at the map of the universe and made instant coffee and played first-generation games on Terry’s first-generation Mac.

And then of course Paul had to move out because I betrayed him with Marian and wrecked his life. And Terry offered Paul’s room to Butler. Who sat around the formica table talking about how smart he was, and he was, in a mean way, one of these people who hit their peak at the SAT and scuttle around like gifted little scorpions for the rest of their lives.

Terry’s idea had a lot of money in it. A thousand dollars an ounce. We would need about a thousand to buy the glassware, the Frankenstein beakers and retorts, a Bunsen burner, and the precursors. The money would come from me. That was another thing that didn’t bother me. Like Guy Dupree’s lawyer, I was ready to stipulate my ass right into the federal pen.

The only thing that did bother me was impressing Butler, so I asked the proper question, straight out of caper movies:

“But where would you, uh, sell it?”

“Oh, that’s no problem,” he explained condescendingly in his pretentious drawl. He had a dealer, very cool guy. Named “Pink Cloud.” That was his actual name, apparently, right there on his CA driver’s license, “Pink Cloud.”

“Let’s do it,” I said, using the artificially street accent of Pacino movies.

“Yeah but we need a place to cook it,” Butler said.

“I know,” I said, “we can use this house my parents have in Benecia.” I never hesitated to offer him my family’s one asset, our one hope of something appreciating and lifting us out of the demographic where you wince at every knock at the door, because in those days collectors could come to the door.

Butler jumped at that offer, and the next thing I knew we were in our stupid disguises, in my parents’ surplus cop Plymouth, driving down the access road to that chemical supply warehouse. Butler had mentioned that the DEA staked this place out, but by that time I had too much momentum. I was going to crash the bad world’s party, I was going to be in it but not of it, robbing the tweaks to pay the…something or other.

I don’t even remember the terrible moments after I walked in and handed the clerk our shopping list. I looked at the counter in my fake shades, stomach roiling in terror. I don’t remember any dialogue between me and the clerk. You had to sign your name when you were buying ether and the other meth-makings. I signed in as “Kevin Gaffney,” which I’d practiced writing for hours. If any Kevin Gaffneys are reading this, you know now why your luggage gets searched every single time you come back from Honolulu. Sorry, dude. Fortunes of war.

If the clerk said anything at all during the transaction, I don’t recall it. I was deaf, terror-tinnitus. The box filled up slowly, I signed in as Kevin, paid and walked out, waiting for the red lights and sirens. Nothing. No cars except my parents’ Plymouth. Butler was sneering in the passenger seat when I carried the cardboard box of alchemist’s gear and toxins to the trunk. He let me pack the stuff in myself, and when I got in and started the car, suavely explained that he’d been “watching for DEA agents” the whole time.

None of it made any impression on me. Clues were wasted on me. There’s a great line in a PKD novel: “It is no use helping me. I am too stupid. So the help is wasted.”

What I knew was that I would successfully mutate into a bad person, I’d get my mother that Cadillac, heads would roll, Heidi would be sorry.

This is the second installment of John Dolan’s work-in-progress, “Stupid, Or How To Lose Money Running A Speedlab.” Read part one here.


Pleasant Hell

By John Dolan

Buy John Dolan’s novel “Pleasant Hell” (Capricorn Press).

Read more: , , , , , , John Dolan, Featured

Got something to say to us? Then send us a letter.

Want us to stick around? Donate to The eXiled.

Twitter twerps can follow us at


Add your own

  • 1. Rubicon  |  March 19th, 2010 at 9:46 am

    Best sentence:
    It would have been great to die with that soundtrack, all full of some overpriced drugs, in proper leather uniform.

  • 2. Saul Goode  |  March 19th, 2010 at 10:15 am

    So wonderful to see a new Dolan piece!

  • 3. Josh  |  March 19th, 2010 at 10:40 am

    Dolan, you fuck, it’s spelled “Benicia.” Good otherwise, though.

  • 4. Jacob  |  March 19th, 2010 at 2:04 pm

    Oh, this picture of Bongo Burger brings back the found memories of my college years. Their Persian burger was so good.

  • 5. senorpogo  |  March 19th, 2010 at 4:43 pm

    “Most of the people who talk that way look to me like they’ve never spent a decade reading in their rooms because there was nothing else to do. That’s lonerdom.”

    Amen. John Dolan possesses the ability to point out simple facts that were once obvious yet have now become deeply profound simply because nobody else has the balls (or is it life experience?) to go against the official party line and speak the truth.

    There is nothing cool about being a loner. Anyone who has been through it knows this as a fact. A real loner is not alone because he’s too cool for the room. A real loner is alone because he’s terrified of people and smells bad.

    Enough hollow praise. I’m subscribing.

  • 6. Joe  |  March 19th, 2010 at 6:40 pm

    I am a loner and its better than the alternative. People are a pain in the ass.

    I like the story though; I look forward to the next part.

  • 7. MQ  |  March 19th, 2010 at 8:02 pm

    Fantastic. Glad to see him back.

  • 8. Homer Erotic  |  March 19th, 2010 at 8:16 pm

    To make somebody like this Heidi sorry, you would probably have to inflict some sort of permanently disfiguring injury upon her; otherwise, not gonna happen, no matter whatcha do.

  • 9. killcity  |  March 20th, 2010 at 8:22 am

    7&8th grafs are genius and tear inducing. But alas, gangs come and go, lonerdom is here to stay– always with you. But I agree, gangs are better if you can find one.

  • 10. Jason King  |  March 21st, 2010 at 1:29 pm

    Not exaclty a work in progress, i’ve already read all 5 parts, just not on exiled. made me wanna read it again though (which i did), its just hard to find. I dig you guys.

  • 11. Saul Goode  |  March 22nd, 2010 at 10:49 am

    Jason King, you will provide us with the next three parts or be declared counter-revolutionary.

  • 12. Tovarishch  |  March 22nd, 2010 at 4:07 pm

    Good prose. I wish they’d take up the Russian scene again, damn Putin.

  • 13. bighead  |  March 22nd, 2010 at 8:25 pm

    I love reading about losers who went to Berkley. Makes me feel better about myself.

  • 14. Jussi  |  March 23rd, 2010 at 5:29 am

    Great stuff, waiting for more.

  • 15. good 'ol johnny  |  March 23rd, 2010 at 8:50 pm

    I also have all 5 parts (in the form of one long document) and will be willing to share for a decent baloon of Heroin.

  • 16. Commander Dorzog  |  April 6th, 2010 at 8:43 am

    The lesson is loud and clear: you really need to be on Valium to make speed.

  • 17. ray  |  May 12th, 2010 at 6:47 am

    “one of these people who hit their peak at the SAT and scuttle around like gifted little scorpions for the rest of their lives.”

    That’s some pulitzer stuff right there.

Leave a Comment

(Open to all. Comments can and will be censored at whim and without warning.)


Required, hidden

Subscribe to the comments via RSS Feed