By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
What is disturbing about Sub-Hollywood is its intimations of violence. As an adolescent, Kale diverts the pipes from a nearby slaughterhouse and fills a local creek with animal blood. (Haley remembers Kalberg bragging about this.) Kale does 800 pushups a day and confesses to hoarding firearms and explosives, like a self-styled Travis Bickle. In art school, he fashions a performance piece around killing live rats; later, he befriends Liz Taylor’s daughter (a classmate of Kalberg’s at Otis) and contemplates “cutting her head off and keeping it in a jar of formaldehyde.” He variously dreams of killing his parents and setting his father’s head on fire, throws his mother across the room (comparing it to unleashing a Hail Mary pass), and tries to kick his girlfriend with enough force that he breaks a window.
“I’ve always had a penchant for temper tantrums around four in the afternoon, but anytime will do,” says Kale. “It’s possibly caused by low blood sugar and a lack of vitamins. Once you get in the habit of fighting every day, it becomes difficult not to go there.”
This culminates in a series of events, where, after his girlfriend dies of a drug overdose cooked up by a malevolent drug dealer named Royal, a speed-crazed Kale outfits a Smith & Wesson .38 with a Coca-Cola-can silencer, dresses up in a blond wig and miniskirt — a garish image rendered in pen and ink by Gary Panter on the book’s cover — and, in the novel’s one, sustained burst of dramatic license, rings Royal’s doorbell (the latter greets him as “Liverhead”) and shoots him once in the heart. “A bullet in the heart, you drop dead, guaranteed,” Kale confides to the reader.
From there, he drives north to Darwin, California (pop. 54), on the edge of Death Valley, and burns down a home owned by Royal and his half-brother, in the process incinerating a mentally challenged caretaker and his wife. This sole diversion into outright invention begs the question: Could such crimes, in fact, be real, especially since the novel ends with the disclaimer, “TO THE LAPD — This book does not contain the confessions to any past unsolved crimes (murders, shootings, arsons, narcotics infractions)”?
But the LAPD checked into it. “We looked at [whether] they have anything unsolved from way back then in that particular part of town,” says Detective Jake Dugger, who was present at both the crime scene and Kalberg’s initial police interview, and was later assigned to look into irregularities surrounding the case.
Haskell’s friends who read the novel — Haley and Baker among them — didn’t necessarily recognize him in the portrayal of the drug dealer, Royal. Unlike Royal, Haskell didn’t live in the Fairfax District, nor did he have a bird of paradise tattooed on his right arm to mask drug tracks, nor was there evidence of jail time etched in his face. Yet, according to police, Haskell had two drug arrests in the ’80s (neither violent), and had recently admitted to dealing drugs while at CalArts. Royal’s “mouth had long, thin, dark-purple lips sculpted with a cruel twist like something imagined by Mary Shelley,” while Haskell (according to ex-girlfriend Liza Walsh) “thought he looked like Frankenstein.” And like Haskell, Royal “was able to come off as uncannily complex, and ... talked with well-informed repartee.”
Regardless of the character’s origin, the police saw similarities in the way Royal was described in the novel and Kalberg’s later account of the real-world shooting. “I looked at the book myself and highlighted some things that were very coincidental,” says Detective Dwayne Fields, who was also present at Kalberg’s initial interview.
In the book, Kale says of Royal: “His hands were so large that I estimated it would take five or six of my hands combined to equal the mass of one of his knuckle-busters.” Later, during the shooting itself, Kale braces himself against a stucco wall so that Royal couldn’t “kill me with his enormous hands.”
Detective Fields: “Once you look at the video of the interview and then read that part of the book, [it seems] almost rehearsed to a degree. Little things — talking about the hands, like how small [Kalberg’s] hands were. The shooting itself doesn’t coincide with our shooting at all — not even close. But little things that he said, I thought, ‘I’ve heard this somewhere before.’”
Peter Haskell moved in with Kalberg and Wojciak during the first week of August. He was a skilled handyman with a full complement of power tools, and his responsibilities eventually grew to include grocery shopping, light home improvements and other household chores. But from the start, in exchange for a place to stay, his primary job was to promote and sell Kalberg’s book, thousands of copies of which remained stacked on pallets in the loft.