What is the Purpose of Mystery? Oscar Zeta Acosta
(the man known as)

by Sesshu Foster



OSCAR ZETA ACOSTA (the man known as)

Our Cal State L.A. Chicano Studies professor Jamie Escalante returned from the University of Houston Panamerican Conference on the post-colonial Legacy and Lingering Whereabouts of Oscar Zeta Acosta, where he said the margaritas were smashing and new theories abounded as new socio-political alliances formed every millisecond in hotel rooms around the conference. Professor Escalante ensconced in our awareness the realization that there could be no better consultant on the Mystery than Oscar Zeta Acosta, civil rights attorney and cigar aficionado, acclaimed author of the classics, Autobiography of a Brown Buffalo, and Revolt of the Cockroach People, though he was reported missing and presumed dead off the coast of Mazatlan in 1974. Alive or dead, who could be a more incisive and insightful spokesperson for the Mystery than someone who has peered over the edge and then disappeared? Tracking down someone whose whereabouts have been unknown for 30-plus years can be extremely difficult, not to mention discouraging, so I’d thank Liki Renteria, in particular, for heading up the search that recently located the man who answered the description, the man who insists that he is Oscar Zeta Acosta (OZA).

1. What is the purpose of mystery?

OZA: You know, I don’t want to sound self-serving, but this is really the subtext, if you read between the lines, of both of my books Autobiography of a Brown Buffalo and Revolt of the Cockroach People. I would direct people to those books, which on the surface deal in social commentary and historical conflict, drugs, sex and (Chicano) rock and roll, but really---if you really look---you will find the spiritual seeking that you seek. Here’s a short, just a snippet, sort of a quote---it’s a teaser, a riddle---think of it as a Zen koan: “It’s in the blood now. And not only my blood. Somebody still has to answer for Robert Fernandez and Roland Zanzibar. Somebody still has to answer for all the smothered lives of all the fighters who have been forced to carry on, chained to a war for Freedom just like a slave is chained to his master.” Or this one---see if you can figure it out: “Warm-wet-stuck-suck, down, in-out, in-out… Ayyyyy!”

2. What is the purpose of "death"?

OZA: Yeah, I could see how you would want to ask me that but there ain’t no easy answers. People with questions like that have been searching for me for decades, down in Mazatlan and Michoacan, Zacatecas nor Guadalajara, Texas or Juarez or whatever, and here you people, Liki, lucked out and connected with me here at home in ELA (home-away-from-home, my spiritual base, wherever else I might be) and I don’t mind answering a few questions, I don’t. But if I get the general drift of your meaning, the guy you really ought to ask these kinds of questions to is a guy named Juan Fish. He’s not that well known, not at all. In fact, he’s practically unknown, except among certain circles. He’s almost as hard to locate as I am. By chance, have you heard of the vato?

3. We know him, yeah. He’s a complex guy. What is the purpose of ball lightning around General Hospital especially on winter nights?

OZA:  Have you checked with the Office of Homeland Security? Maybe it has something to do with that? It would be interesting to maybe see what they have to say. Just don’t ask FEMA, know what I’m saying? (Laughs.) You know for a fact you ain’t gonna get a straight answer from any of the fascists they got running everything now in the name of the corporate bottom line. You’ll get the Gary Webb treatment, you know what happened to Gary Webb? Or Ruben Salazar? Accidents happen to people like that who go around asking too many hard questions. Another way of looking at the whole thing is, if jails and hospitals are the colleges of Life, then ball lightning is like Christmas ornaments on the Tree of Life, get it? By the way, what are you, anyway, Vietnamese or something?

4. What is the purpose of "winter"?

OZA: Jeez, Louise. Hey, Liki, c’mon! You never said anything about---  what the hell, gimme another tall one out of the cooler, don’t just sit on it, Jesus.

5. Who funds the campaign headquarters in the campaign of hate?

Pulling out of my pocket a piece paper, I read to OZA:


In a mid-1990s federal racketeering case against 12 Eme defendants, an Avenues leader named Alex "Pee Wee" Aguirre was convicted of murdering an unpaid consultant who helped Edward James Olmos make "American Me," a 1992 movie that the gang did not like.

One informant in the current case told an FBI agent that the Eme had ordered the Avenues to "Kill any blacks on sight." The judge ruled out testimony about the Eme connection as being too prejudicial.

This case came about when Los Angeles police detectives took the Wilson killing, then 3 years old, to the U.S. attorney's office in 2002. They hit a statutory obstacle in trying to bring Saldana, who had not yet been convicted of his other crimes, to trial in state court. The case grew from there based largely on the testimony of Jose de la Cruz, the only Avenues member convicted in the Wilson murder, and Jesse Diaz, an Avenues member in prison for attempted murder of a police officer.

If the campaign of terror the prosecution alleges indeed occurred, it is difficult to say if it pushed African Americans out of Highland Park, or kept others from coming in.

In 1990, there were 1,246 African Americans in Highland Park. In 2000, there were 1,974, according to census records.

Warren Hill, Sr., 58, moved to Highland Park from South Los Angeles 15 years ago. As a black man, he has never been harassed by the Avenues. But he keeps his head when they're around, as he did with black gangs in his old neighborhood. And he keeps off the street at night.

"If you have Avenues standing right there," he said one recent afternoon, sitting at a bus stop, "I could sit down here and they wouldn't do a thing. It's not them harassing blacks period. "It's what teenagers do. If my son walked by them, and shot them a look, then there could be trouble."

OZA: That’s why I ran for L.A. County Sheriff in 1970. We were aiming to shut down all the offices of the campaign of hate wherever we could find them. Bet your ass on it, people knew that, too. That’s why I got over 500,000 votes. Of course, I lost by a million (laughs), what does that tell you?

6. What is the effect on personal health of all these moving lights? Particularly all these moving lights? Sometimes at night you see lights moving from room to room in a house across the street, and what effect does that have on us?

OZA: Carlos Castaneda had his theories (chuckles), so what, nowadays you aint going for all that Don Juanismo? Why not? They probably still go for that stuff at UCLA and New York, even in De Efe, Mexico City, you might be able to find people into Maria Sabina. She died, yeah, everybody dies. But you could probably hook up different tours, where they take people out in the desert or up in the mountains, feed them mushrooms. In the old days it was all done on the QT, a low-rent rendezvous---blue acid tabs straight from the Haight; nowadays I bet they have $300 a day spas on top of a mountain where the masseuse wipes off your babas or barf with white linen and put cucumbers on your eyes while you’re tripping. After its all over you can cool off with a dip in the pool. $300 a day. Is this another one of those kind of trips? ‘Cuz if it is… (OZA begins to sing---if you can call it that, “Oh, I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain. I seen sunny days that I thought would never come again, but I always thought that I’d see you, baby, ONE MORE TIME AGAIN!” Laughs.)

7. I also want to ask about spots I sometimes see. The doctors couldn't find anything so what about these spots I sometimes see, which writhe like serpents across my eyesight? Do they "exist"?

OZA: I’m not a doctor. I’m a trained lawyer. I could speculate, but that would have to be off the record. I have personal experience with this type of thing, so take it from me; court-ordered shrinks won’t be of much help in this regard. There is no bottom!  You can go down that way forever, but there’s no way out.

8. Who are the so-called experts in this field and how are they decided, I mean who picks them? Because we never get asked, in the area of mystery.

OZA: What kind of expert are you waiting for? You seen the stairways to nowhere for yourself. You seen the kids all run out of the bathroom at City terrace Elementary saying they saw la Llorona in the mirror. You seen the fog of Mystery on a winter morning. You seen the horny toad squirting blood out of his eyes. Ah! (Chugalugs the malt liquor.)

9. What about black pepper? Do you----?

OZA: You got pederast priests in the offices of the church, why don’t you ask them? Or the family down the block who says they have ghosts?  Or the TV addicts writing astrology columns for all tomorrow’s newspapers? Some airwaves and frequencies radiating from the hills broadcast everyday illusions. There’s experts behind all of that fooling themselves. There’s people making it the business of their lives to pass this stuff on to another generation. Who voted for any of them? Who’s to say what the real mystery was? You know one day I woke up in the morning, and it was the exact same day as the day before. I lived that day completely different from the one that I remembered from before. It never happened again, but that was the day I got to go back and do it over again for once. I never told anybody about that.

10. Once I was told, "Don't read while you eat or you will go blind."

My eyes continue to deteriorate. Could you elaborate on this?

OZA: Like I say kid, I don’t know if you are getting the message here. Maybe if you took a little kitten and wrapped it up in firecrackers on Chinese New Year’s and lit the fuse, you’d have good luck for once, or maybe you’d just have the ugliest, most neurotic cat you ever had that hated you. What’s your guess?

11. What's personally most important to you in the healing arts, 5,000 years of traditional folk practice or something invented on the Internet this month?

OZA: That’s something different altogether. You have your traditional healing practices of indigenous peoples the world round, and you got your snake oil salesmen trying to make a quick buck off of something that’s been taken out of context. You take psychedelic rock from the 60s and spin it backwards, are you gonna get a secret message or are those kinds of ideas just dreamed up by people sitting around blasting a little too much herb?

12. Occasionally people go to unlicensed storefront curanderos and get sold nasty stuff that makes them sick or die, but isn't that better than Scientology? Or is it the same?

OZA: I guess it all depends on who pays their money to rent stalls at the next street fair. Who’s to say but in my time maybe I could’ve used a prayer from somebody, maybe even me?

13. Are you controlled by robots from outer space?

OZA: How many fingers am I holding up? [OZA stands in the breeze coming through the French doors of the third floor balcony overlooking the rooftops of the city, and spreads his arms, I figure he’s going to flip the whole town the bird, give the whole indifferent metropolis the middle finger, an anarchist anti-Nixon with both arms upraised in his own version of the V-for-victory sign, but he just takes it all in with the twilight breeze blowing in his face, lowers his arms to rest on the railing, and looks out, now and then drinking melancholic from a can.]

14. Personally I feel that we shouldn't mention narcotraficante Satanic worshippers from the Tex-Mex border in this context because they have too many problems, don't you think? You know what I mean?

OZA does not reply. He’s thinking about something else.

15. Are you going to answer my question?

OZA tosses the empty can three stories to the street below. Maybe someone is looking at him, because he stiffens and backs warily from the balcony. His contacts told us that they consider this unpretentious ELA apartment his last safehouse in America.

16. What is the connection between the conspiracies of the 1960s and modern conspiracies of today? What has really changed in the practice of modern conspiracies?

OZA: That’s a question you need to ask a professor or a journalist. I am just Zeta, the last Brown Buffalo.

17. How do you explain the following unusual phenomena of ELA:

* the geyser at Valley & Eastern?

OZA: That was… that was… a sign! A sign that… someone must answer!

* ball lightning orbiting General Hospital?

OZA: Blue tabs of acid straight from the Haight!

* the man who walks avenues and boulevards wearing the rabbit mask of brown paper bag?

OZA: He is unashamed to stand before you with tears on his face, to sing of the Cockroach People.

* Levitating post-modern "pre-condemned" house?

OZA: I was a civil rights lawyer, not tenant law.

* Stairs to nowhere and the people who walk them?

OZA: You mean the courthouse steps downtown? I repeat what I said to those vile sons of bitches many years ago: You crummy bastards, we are da yout!

* Indian graveyard at Cal State L.A. forensics center?

OZA: Maybe like the La Brea tar pits it’s all gonna come bubbling and oozing up one day through the floorboards like greasy black asphalt! Bones, crimes, murders, broken promises, lies, hidden truths, secret lives, stolen futures, it’ll be pounding in the blood like karma.

* AIDS memorial portal to Tijuana that sometimes plays Carlos Santana music and even the Chinese don't know about?

OZA: Don’t short-change our Chinese brethren; they didn’t make a billion of them for nothing. Have you heard of the secret Chinese tunnels of Mexicali?

* A Virgin Defacer who only causes himself and his own lifetimes of bad luck?

OZA: Anybody messing around with virgins has only himself to blame. Although, I guess somebody has to do it.

* Juan Fish Garage? Where is it located and what is its connection to a house of

pregnant girls?

OZA: Juan Fish, that guy again! Talk about your men of Mystery! He puts me in the shade. I take my hat off to him, figuratively speaking. As you see, I don’t wear a hat.

18. Lastly, what effect does leaving a jar of pennies by the door have on your day? On your overall health? On your headache?

OZA: You got a headache, kid? Leave the jar of aspirin by the door. Then again, maybe you need a steaming big bowl of menudo, with pig’s feet floating around in it, and fresh chopped onion and oregano tossed on top. That might cure you.

19. So what if I said "lastly," I still want to ask you about the secret tunnels of ELA? Where are they and what have they been used for? This is important.

OZA: The only secret tunnels I heard about were escape hatches and storage spaces built underneath certain houses by subversive groups and organizations of the day, but I was sworn to secrecy, in part by lawyer-client privilege.

20. Who knows where the files are kept on the secret history of Los Angeles? You must know something or certainly have some idea?

OZA: About the time I went south to Mexico in ’74, former Black Panther Party member and community activist, Michael Zinzun, formed the Coalition Against Police Abuse (CAPA) with Kwaku Duren and Anthony Thigpenn to deal with the rampant police brutality of the time---this was twenty years before the Rodney King riots of ’92, remember---and this organization provided support for victims of the police and their families, and agitated for justice in street demonstrations and courtrooms. If you have read my book, then you can see how crucial and necessary this activism was. After the 1979 LAPD killing of Eula Love over a dispute involving a $22 gas bill, CAPS proposed a civilian police review board, like the kind L.A. had in place after the 1992 riots, but at the time, CAPS couldn’t get it on the ballot. Maybe that would have prevented the later 1992 riots and the damages to the city to the tune of over a billion dollars and 58 killed. Of course, the LAPD was up to the same tricks they used against me and the people I was representing in court during the Chicano Movement. The LAPD had a secret red squad called the Public Disorder Intelligence Division, PDID, that spied on anti-war groups and civil rights organizations, and they infiltrated CAPS like they did the other community groups. Michael Zinzun and CAPS sued the LAPD and the LAPD was forced to disband this repressive, secret, corrupt police division, and that’s a good question. Where are those files? In this so-called time of threats to national security and the War on Terrorism, have the security forces and their reactionary masterminds implemented new PDIDs? Are they compiling new files on community activists and infiltrating organizations and disrupting their activities? Children, do you know where your police are tonight? Michael Zinzun died just recently, you know. At home, in his sleep.

OZA steps to the railing of the balcony and looks out over the city. He’s smiling (with his big hair messed up) at something.