S.M. Park’s column Risen Apes about being a 70-year-old boomer. In “Sidekicks,” Park talks about his longtime friendship with Moochie.
My old buddy Moochie is coming for a visit next month. He lives two hours away in Bellingham, Washington, and we’ve known each other since college. We were both enrolled in Evergreen State’s “The Individual in America” (IA) program, but the campus was a sprawling construction site when we arrived in ’71. The contractors were months behind on the student center, lecture hall, dorm and activity buildings; the only finished structure, in fact, was the library. So instructors were encouraged to collect their charges and disappear for a week or two.
A hundred of us from the IA program headed north to Mt. Baker. It was billed as an opportunity to bond through labor, in this case cutting trails through the national forest. I’d done that four years earlier with little personal enrichment but my classmates were very excited … they’d be starting college in the wilderness! They filled their backpacks with granola and Frisbees while I opted for mescaline and cheap wines (Gallo, Ripple and MD 20/20, the latter for hangover purposes only.)
A tent would have made more sense, much less a sleeping bag or a warm jacket. It was late September in the mountains and the temperature dipped below freezing every night, so after an evening of guitar and song (obligatory at Evergreen gatherings), I’d linger around the campfire, work off the mescaline buzz with wine. When everyone else was asleep I’d either pass out where I sat or, if I still had my wits about me, stumble from one tent to another, listening for snores. If I heard particularly loud ones, and managed to lift the tent flap without protest, I’d crawl inside, lay down on the ground, try to grab a few hours of shuteye.
I’d be up by dawn in any case, usually to do more drinking, make a vain attempt at pulling myself together. I’d hoped a young lovely would share her tent and favors with me, but I’d overestimated the allure of a twenty-five-year-old alkie in rags: I’d sit down with a group of female classmates, spin yarns in between slugs on the Ripple bottle, and pretty soon I’d be talking to myself.
It might have mattered, except that’s what the mescaline was for. I know I was glad when the rain ceased and we were assigned to our respective trail crews. Mine was called the Clear Creek Project and I figured a day in the woods with a machete would, by definition, limit my drug and alcohol intake, keep me from embarrassing myself with a d.t.’s episode.
And it worked, at least during the day. We were hippies, after all, so we did more chirping than working. It was chop chop … talk nonsense … chop chop … smoke a joint … chop chop … talk more nonsense. Our group leader was Professor Roy, a radical black guy from New York City who’d never been in Central Park at night, much less a damp, tangled Northwest rain forest. Mostly he cursed, swatted at imaginary bugs, tried to keep his Afro inside his hardhat.
After a day of little progress we set up camp in a meadow. I had a tent by then but couldn’t remember where I got it. Hopefully I hadn’t stolen it in a blackout, and if I had, why’d I leave the tent poles behind?
I found a long branch in the woods that’d keep the front propped open and sat down on a stump with some Gallo and beef jerky. My backpack was between my boots and it felt uncomfortably light, as if I had, as usual, grossly underestimated my booze intake.
I was set up far from the main group, on a knoll in a corner of the meadow, so I was surprised when a classmate I hadn’t met appeared in my periphery.
“Hi!” he said, sticking out his hand. “I’m Mike O’Leary.”
I could have guessed the O’Leary part: I’d noticed earlier that he looked like a leprechaun. Puffy cap, baggy pants, a bit of short-guy swagger.
“Are you sure?” I asked, pumping his hand. “You seem like a ‘Moochie’ to me.”
As he was ever after. (At least to me; I never asked him what he thought of the nickname.) He went down on one knee, drew a gallon of Cribari from his backpack.
It was even worse than my stuff.
“You’re Wilson High, right?” he said. “The crazy guy? The one who had to pass a sanity test just to get into Evergreen?”
I grunted in recognition. Looked down at that nearly flat backpack again.
“Moochie,” I said, “if you’re here to share the Cribari, I’m whoever you want me to be.”
Thus began a half century of friendship. I suppose it was mere convenience in the beginning, us being the two worst drunks on campus. O’Leary was three years younger than I was (as were most of my Evergreen classmates), an orphan adopted by an older couple and raised in Bellingham. He’d always been curious about his birth parents and searched for them for years following graduation. He finally ran them down, only to discover a bus had done the same to his drunken father years before. (He’d been crossing the street from one seedy tavern to another.)
This made Mooch a chip off the ol’ block but provided little solace. In the meanwhile we were roommates during our second year at Evergreen. We rented an old house in a seedy part of town that was perfect for our purposes. I was ostensibly doing a “writing contract” and who knows what Moochie was studying or even, for that matter, if he was still enrolled. I know he worked on Alaskan fishing boats in the summer, which made him the only non-dealer I knew with money. My own funds didn’t stretch too far—I managed the Student Activities Building on weekends, but after realizing no one used it (what good were a swimming pool and weight room to hippies?) I stopped going in—which left Moochie to bankroll most of our escapades.
That old house was our staging area. We’d usually wake up there (unless we got lucky), spend a few hours collecting our wits, then enjoy lunchtime cocktails while pondering an array of drug choices. There was more mescaline than ’shrooms, LSD and peyote as a rule, but I can’t remember us ever running out of mind benders. We’d make a selection, then “dump the lump” as we called it, head out to see what happened next. We tried not to drive as the police had impounded my car and O’Leary was always losing his Volvo somewhere.
By our estimate we took psychedelics every other day that year (often doubling or tripling up on weekends), with cocaine and speed buffering the in-between times, a kind of months-long Fear and Loathing in Olympia, Washington.
There was little consciousness raising involved, of course. (As I liked to put it: “I do drugs to make my cigarettes taste better, and Moochie just wants to drink longer.”) We wouldn’t have lasted a term at a regular school, but at least I was paying for college myself. It’s one of the reasons it took me eight years to graduate (the only support I received from my family was a twenty-five-dollar check an aunt sent me once, and I couldn’t decide whether to frame it or cash it), but that was okay … it kept the onus on me. On those rare occasions when I’d look around, think I was wasting my time and money, I’d remind myself I had little use for a formal education, anyway. I was keen to write if I survived, but in the meanwhile Evergreen was a handy drug emporium.
It’s hard to say how (or even if) Moochie justified his behavior: I know our peers (many of them dead now themselves) thought we’d be lucky to see our thirties. We’d weave between taverns, student housing and parties, often ending the night at a cretinous bar called Captain Coyote’s. I was 6’6” and Moochie was a foot shorter (a psychedelic Mutt and Jeff), so keeping each other upright was harder than it looked.
I’d offer details but we rarely remembered what we’d done the next morning. (Which was another of O’Leary’s assets, how he blacked out as often as I did.) Most of what I know about the time, in fact, was supplied by classmates then and later. The latter would sidle up to me at reunions (total strangers in my mind) to share their High & Moochie yarns.
I include a couple favorites here, the first from a woman named “Tammy”:
“My roommate and I woke in our dorm room at three in the morning to find you and a weird little guy—he called himself ‘The Broken Rubber’—clawing through our cassette tapes in the dark. You’d flick your lighter and look at one, toss it over your shoulder, pick up another and do the same. It was terrifying: not only had we never seen either of you before, but you were a giant, obviously insane person who growled like a caveman. When I asked what you were looking for Broken Rubber said ‘Jethro Tull’s Thick as a Brick, of course!’ I told him I’d never heard of it and the two of you jumped up and left, declaring us a disgrace to hippie dippies everywhere!”
Another example (from a surly, redheaded doofus with “Curly” on his name tag):
“I came home to the cabin I rented in Mud Bay to find you and your buddy on my kitchen table, dancing to Lou Reed’s Walk on the Wild Side. When I threatened to call the cops you grew indignant, claimed your behavior was perfectly natural for alkies on peyote and coke.”
Now that sounded more like us.
“I was so pissed I emptied a canister of pepper spray in the garage,” he continued, “then convinced you assholes there was liquor in there. Once you ran inside I locked the door behind you!”
Ahhhh. That’s why we woke with our eyes and lungs burning that time. As always when people told me what I’d done in blackouts I feigned remorse while relishing how our worst decisions make the best stories later.
They filled their backpacks with granola and Frisbees while I opted for mescaline and cheap wines (Gallo, Ripple and MD 20/20, the latter for hangover purposes only.)
And what the hell … it’s not like we killed anyone. (Well, as far as we knew, anyway.)
Though we did have to deal with a dead guy once. We knew this dealer who had a homeless junkie O.D. in his living room. He didn’t want the cops involved, so he called Moochie and I instead. For a gram of coke and cab fare we headed over there at three in the morning, then lugged the wide-eyed corpse down the street. When we located an open car we set him on the driver’s seat, put his right hand on the steering wheel and his left out the window. Stuck a cigarette in his mouth so he’d look as surprised as the car’s owner in the morning.
Moochie was a good man for trouble (which was hardly surprising, given all the practice he’d had), and not only were we the worst drunks on campus, but its biggest misfits, too. That’s a bold assertion in a school full of weirdos, but it’s hard to imagine a place (other than a drunk tank or mental ward) where we belonged.
I graduated in the Spring of ’73 with a B.A. in “Philosophy” while O’Leary hung around for another year. We saw each other frequently until he moved back to Bellingham, after which it was mostly phone calls and letters.
In ’76 I quit drinking because I had to and he stopped because he thought he should. That’s my interpretation, anyway; like Gumbo (who at seventy-five still savors a cocktail), Moochie was in his element as a rummy; there was little of the “woe is me” that taints his joie de vivre now.
But then … I would think he was better off drinking: I feel that about most drunks I’ve known (myself included). Instead a couple of notorious alkies have been sober over forty years now.
I probably fared better than he in the aftermath: we’re both alone and childless, of course, but not only did I keep doing drugs, I grew them for a living, too. O’Leary has been reading meters at the water department for twenty-five years and will retire with a hefty pension soon.
I’ve been lobbying him to buy a home in Port Townsend, but with the rush on property here they’re hard to find. Then yesterday I ran into Tidy Ted, my next-door neighbor, as I returned from a walk.
“Hey, Wilson,” he said. “Looks like we’ll be putting this place on the market next Spring. We’ve tried but it’s just too small for us … do you have any friends who’d be interested?”
“Oh, yeah,” I said.
Time to get the misfits back together.