S.M. Park’s continuing column Risen Apes about being a 70-year-old boomer. In this column “Per Chance to Dream,” Park talks about insomnia, encounters with an Indian guru, and vape pens.
I don’t generally covet what other people have but damn! I do envy sleepers; four or five hours is a major achievement for me and I’m lucky when I eke out three. I lay down at ten, pop up at one with every gear in my brain whirring. It’s a consequence of the brain diseases I suffered as a boy I presume, the ones that left me with a “racetrack behind my eyes,” but that’s little solace when you’re staring into the void at two in the morning. I’ve been stoned for half a century and have tried very pill, potion and substance this side of warm milk with little success.
All for a bit of rest. That’s what’s tortured me; I’ve wasted half my life imagining who or what I could have been with a little sleep or, worse, convincing myself there was a solution. Finally, about ten years ago, I just gave up. Admitted to myself that fatigue was my fate and carried on. I don’t know why it took so long; maybe the notion there was a remedy out there, and if melatonin was working for that guy … why not me?
I kept chanting my mantra, though. It was given to me nearly 40 years ago by an Indian guru. I first encountered him during my second mental ward commitment, when he came to Agnews State Hospital for a meditation lecture. I was curious about the practice, not only as an alternative to alcohol but because I was reading Yogananda’s Autobiography of a Yogi at the time. After the guru spoke (I’ll call him “Maradonda,” I can’t remember his real name) he opened the floor to questions. It was an audience of bored, jittery addicts, so there were quite a few of them, and eventually I stood up, gave my name and a short personal history before asking some lame question or another.
A year later I’m a thousand miles away, attending a junior college in Longview, Washington. I have a hangover so fierce I fear for my sanity but—when I finally look up—I spot a flier on the wall next to me. What’s more it has Maradonda’s mug on it. It seemed he was giving a lecture at the school that very evening. Was this serendipity, I wondered, a sign from the universe I couldn’t ignore? Or just the desperation that usually accompanied my hangovers? I tried to look away, but even in the grainy flier photo you could see the yogi’s eyes, these brown, bottomless wells that radiated bliss. They were all we could talk about after he left the mental ward that night; we’d never seen anyone look that high without drugs.
So though I was rarely on campus after dark I returned that night to hear the yogi. He was sitting in the middle of the auditorium stage in his flowing saffron robes, his arms cradling a bouquet of flowers. There were maybe thirty of us in attendance and he spoke for half an hour on the merits of meditation. Afterwards he asked for questions and this time I was the first to rise. I was going to mention seeing him in the mental ward the year before, but he held up his hand the instant he spotted me.
“Wilson High!” he boomed. “We meet again, my friend.”
What!!?? I was shocked. I’d been one of a hundred addicts in the audience at Agnews, and though I’d mentioned my name at the time I hadn’t met the yogi personally.
And now he not only remembered me, but acted like we were old buddies? It was too weird for words.
“Agnews State Hospital, right?” he continued.
I nodded dumbly.
“Well,” he said, “it seems you still like to drink.”
And then he started laughing. Not a mean, derisive laugh, but a bubbly, infectious one, so in spite of myself I started chuckling right along with him. At that instant (and even today, all these decades later) it wouldn’t have mattered if he’d pulled a Dale Carnegie trick on me: whatever he was selling, I was buying.
So the next day a dozen of us went to another student’s home, where Maradonda gave each of us a personalized mantra. He did it privately in a back room and I was the last to be initiated. I walked in, assumed the lotus position in front of him and, thick as the incense smoke was, those eyes were still hypnotizing. I knew from the others that he’d sit quietly, ask a few questions, then give me my “special” mantra (with instructions to never reveal it to anyone else).
Instead he reached over and poked me in the chest. “Ha!” he said. “You I know, Mr. Wilson High.”
“Oh yes yes, from many lives before this one. You and me, Wilson … we’ve been around.”
“Seriously?” I gasped. “And … have I always been a wino?”
“All right!” I exclaimed. “I knew it! And what about this life? How’s it gonna turn it out for me this time around?”
“Like the rest,” he beamed. “Very badly.”
And just like that we both started laughing. A couple dipshit soul brothers heehawing about the sheer, perfect absurdity of it all. We might be laughing still but after a minute or two we were both gagging on the incense. Maradonda gave me my mantra, coached me on how to pronounce it, then I stood up, left the room and never saw him again.
But I’m still using that mantra as a mute button when the sleep won’t come. It’s always helped center me and then, at the same time pot was legalized on the Left Coast, the vape pen was introduced. Talk about a confluence of product and opportunity (Try this out, kids!). They’re safe and easy to use, they come in a variety of fruity flavors and, as vapor, leave no residual odor, so they can be fired up anywhere. I’ve no use for them as recreational drugs—the oil (whether indica or sativa) provides a better low than a high in my opinion—but that’s what makes them the perfect sleep aid. Now when I’m staring at the ceiling at one a.m. I reach over, take three hits of, say, Lavender Trainwreck, and within the hour I’m dozing. It’s a fitful sleep usually, and by five in the morning I’m at this computer the same as I’ve been for years; but I’m an insomniac, all I ever wanted is a taste.
Plus there’s no hangover afterwards. Vaporizers are easily the biggest pot innovation of my lifetime. I was haunting Amsterdam in the early nineties when, at some point or another, I’d run into “Eagle Bill” in a coffeeshop. He was an old, scraggly ex-pat hailed as the “Inventor of the Vaporizer.” He lugged around a heating device to vaporize the bud and everywhere he went stoners lined up for a hit. The sheer uniqueness of the delivery system, much less the absence of smoke, enhanced the high for most people. I wish I was among them, if only because vapor is (ostensibly) less harmful to your lungs than smoke. The only vaporizer I’ve used that gave me half the high I was looking for was a Volcano I bought at a San Francisco hemp show in 2004. It’s German made and virtually indestructible (if you want something that lasts, buy anything certified as a “German Household Appliance”) and it uses the plastic bag delivery system. It would have been fantastic in my dorm room thirty years earlier; as it was it produced a tasty, floating effect that was nearly as good as smoking.
But the Volcano is a carefully engineered, large metal cylinder that needs time to warm up. These vape pens, using only a tiny compartment beneath the oil, reach 360 degrees in an instant. That—like legalization itself—is a miracle to me. I was sure it wouldn’t happen in my lifetime and, when it did, it ended my thirty-year growing career overnight.
For which I’ll be eternally grateful; it would have been so hard to quit otherwise. I may have wearied of the secrecy and the cultivation and the living off the Drug War but so what? I was enjoying a “something for nothing” life after fifty jobs in twenty years. Terrible, low-paying, soul-sucking jobs, any one of which was worse than most of my friends could imagine. I’d remember every one of them as I stood outside my house at midnight, wondering how I’d drag another sack of soil from my truck to the basement, or when I’d look out on my forty plants and know I had to harvest, manicure and package them by myself. Because not a second of that was as bad as selling meat door-to-door in Watts, or surveying in the Mt. Baker National Forest in a snowstorm, or bucking hay bales twelve hours a day in hundred-degree heat. Gravy, I’d think. This pot shit is pure gravy. Plus it gets me high.
And now, it seems, it’s finally helping me sleep. If you have access to vape pens and they don’t work try some CBD tinctures; when I go in pot stores there’s geezers older than me lined up to buy them. They’re a definite improvement on the Ambien-like drugs. I take one of those and yeah, I might be out for six hours, but it feels like six minutes and I wake as a serial killer.
Which is better than Ned Gumbo does. Now that he’s reduced his drinking he finds he’s not much of a sleeper after all; that he is, in effect, as hyper as a hummingbird. So when he takes Ambien he “sleep eats” or “food walks” (or whatever eating and preparing food in your sleep is called). Last week he strode to the kitchen at three in the morning and, because he’s Gumbo, didn’t finish off a jar of peanut butter or a box of cookies like most sleep eaters. No, he slices six fat, overripe tomatoes in half, then scoops them out and stuffs a whole jar of mayonnaise into the shells.
Which he proceeds to mash into his mouth and beard with only middling success (judging from the tomato seeds and grease spread across the appliances and floor the next morning). He can’t remember a second of it, even as he spends two days on the shitter, trying to get rid of the mayonnaise. Any sane person would swear off the drug at that point but not Ned. Instead he has his wife tie his ankle to the bed frame, so when he rises to sleep eat he rolls over and bangs his head on the floor instead.
Same difference to a zombie, I guess.