S.M. Park’s column Risen Apes about being a 70-year-old boomer. In “Secret Sauce,” Park encounters funny characters, talks prescription drugs, and gets drugs in Mexico.
Last week I went to a wooden boat exhibit with a couple of local friends, Ted Logan and “Mungo Jerry.” It was in a plaza downtown and featured fifteen hand-built sailboats of differing designs and sizes. (I did some sailing as a kid, but like most water sports it held little allure for me. I’m partial to solid ground.)
But the boats themselves were beautifully crafted and their builders stood beside them, answering questions from onlookers. Ted, Mungo and I were halfway through the exhibit when I spotted some baseball caps for sale. They were spread across a bow with a small sign: “‘Bartender Boat’ Hats. $15 Apiece.”
Bartender Boat? How incongruous was that? I picked up a baby blue one, tried it on. Turned to Mungo Jerry.
“Well,” I said, “what do you think?”
“About what?” he asked.
I forgot he micro dosed every morning.
“Never mind,” I said, and returned the hat to the bow. We continued our tour but I couldn’t get that cap out of my head. I finally stopped, told the other two to go ahead.
“I’ll catch up,” I said. “I’ve gotta have that hat.”
I walked back to the boat. There’d been no one there earlier, but now a short, stocky guy was leaning against it. I scooped up the blue cap, pulled out my money clip.
“I’d like to buy this hat,” I told him.
He glanced at me, then the sign.
“Well,” he said, “they’re fifteen bucks. I don’t have any change on me, though.”
“No problem.” I peeled off a ten and a five, handed them to him. Tossed my old cap into a trash bin and slipped on the “Bartender Boat” addition.
We stayed another half hour, then walked a couple blocks to Dogs Afoot, a hot dog and sausage stand. There was a short line and Ted, Mungo and I took up the rear. When we reached the window I realized the guy I’d bought the hat from was right in front of us.
The cashier seemed surprised to see him.
“Jessie?” he said. “What are you doing here? I thought you told me you were broke.”
Jessie grinned. “I was,” he said. “Totally. Then I was over at the show, leaning against a boat, when some tall fuck saunters up, hands me fifteen bucks for a hat that was sitting there. He thought I was selling ’em!”
“No way!” said the cashier. “You may have found a new gig.”
“Absolutely!” crowed Jessie, pulling out the ten I’d handed him. “I’ll have the fuckin’ Special, dawg! With extra coleslaw!”
They had a good laugh over that as I reached down, tapped Jessie on the shoulder. He spun around and looked at me.
“Thanks, pal!” I said. “You made my week.”
I was similarly grateful when I came home several years ago to find an intruder in my studio. He was sitting at this computer (in my T-shirt and underwear and glasses no less), reading my memoir on the screen. He was so engrossed he never heard me enter.
I should have been alarmed, I suppose, but had to suppress my glee instead: I live for stuff like that.
I came home several years ago to find an intruder in my studio. … I should have been alarmed, I suppose, but had to suppress my glee instead: I live for stuff like that.
One of my favorite incidents happened in the Spring of ’93, when I visited my friend Diane in Bisbee, Arizona. We were both Evergreen State grads but hadn’t known each other then, as neither of us spent much time on campus. Instead we met at Harvey’s Lake Tahoe Casino in ’76, where she was a Keno runner and I worked in the slot department. She was bright, irreverent and a very talented watercolorist; she also moved around as much as I did, so though we lost touch I never forgot her. When I happened on an Evergreen Alumni Directory in 1988 I looked her up. Discovered she lived in Montgomery, Vermont and visited her there later.
Now she had an Indian boyfriend named “Chief” and was settled in Bisbee. She and I had toiled at grubby jobs for decades, living hand-to-mouth in service of art and alcohol.
Then we’d both had a change in fortunes: I’d become a pot grower and she was the proprietor of a “Dog Hotel.” (She’d moved in with Chief, made her own home a destination for travelers with pets.)
Both schemes suited our temperaments. On my first morning in Bisbee, after the Chief left for work, we were sitting at the breakfast table and Diane asked what I wanted to do first.
“Head to Mexico for drugs,” I said.
“I thought so,” she laughed, “but I had to ask.”
Back then you could walk into Mexican pharmacies (particularly those in border towns) and acquire narcotics without a prescription. I wasn’t interested in any for myself: I was allergic to poppy plant derivatives by then (the source of most opioids) but wanted some Ativan for my girlfriend Elaine back home.
It wasn’t always like that, of course. When I lived in the Bay Area in ’68 I was employed as a “store detective,” a job that required so little of me that I could pursue my alcoholism undisturbed. The only problem was the d.t.’s precursors I’d been experiencing lately (mild hallucinations accompanied by a fierce, terrifying Dread), so I went to Dr. Ray, one of my childhood physicians, in search of downers. He was a genial old character who was rumored to be hooked on Demerol.
His nurse was a friend of mine, and she scheduled me an after-hours appointment. The old guy was really dragging by then; he seemed, in fact, with his watery eyes and slurred speech, to be circling the drain. (Which he was apparently: the Feds arrested him for self-prescription a month later.)
He gave me a cursory examination, then plopped down at his writing desk.
“So what is it you’re looking for, Wilson?” he asked. “You say withdrawing from alcohol makes you anxious?”
“Well, yeah,” I said.
“How about a hundred ten-milligram Valium?”
“Now you’re talking,” I replied.
He bent over to scribble the prescription. His handwriting became slower and slower until, just after he signed his name, he pitched face first onto the desk. I was stunned. Had he stroked out? Was this some kind of weird medical humor?
Then he began a soft snoring and I watched a stream of drool dribble from his mouth. I was only twenty at the time, and still learning the ropes, so had to think for a moment before I reached over, tugged the pad from beneath his hand. Stuffed the prescription in my pocket and replaced the pad.
Then I nudged him. “Dr. Ray?” I said. “Dr. Ray? Are you all right?”
“Huh?” He sat up and shook his head. “Oh, Wilson,” he said, “I’m so sorry. I was at the hospital late last night.”
“Now, what is it you wanted?” he asked, looking down at his pad. “Wasn’t I going to write you a prescription for something?”
“Yeah,” I said. “A hundred ten-milligram Dexedrine. To keep me awake when I’m writing, you know?”
My mistake was presenting both scripts to the pharmacist at once: that took some fast talking.
My aversion to opioids developed gradually afterwards, to the point where I vomit after a single Vicodin now. More mysterious yet is my sensitivity to downers. Librium, Phenobarbital, Valium, Xanax, Ativan, etc. … just a taste and I’m soporific. Is this because I drank on them back in the day, or the fact my working liver is the size of a golf ball?
Probably both, with a dash of my hundred-year-old mother’s immune system thrown in. It’s protected me so far, but neither of us can tolerate antibiotics either. So I’m facing a future with no relief for pain or infection.
If I don’t croak quick I’ll go as hard as people used to.
But I digress. Diane and I drove to the border that morning, ending up in either Naco or Aqua Prieta. (I’m not sure which, as I only pay attention to the road when I have to.) I know we parked on the American side and walked across the border to the pharmacy. It was nearly noon, and I expected a crowd of American stoners seeking drugs, but Diane and I were the only customers.
There was the usual over the counter stuff on the shelves and a single clerk at the cash register. He was a chubby, mustachioed guy in a cowboy shirt, bolo tie and khakis. He spread his arms in greeting.
“Hola!” he said. “How can I help you today?”
“Well,” I said, “I’d like a hundred two-milligram Ativan.”
“Of course,” he replied. “Do you have a prescription?”
I glanced at Diane: she’d heard this place was cool.
“Well, no,” I said, “I don’t.”
“I’m sorry, Senor,” he said, shaking his head, “but Ativan is a narcotic and you must have a prescription for it.”
What the hell, I thought, it’s Mexico … we’ll try the next place.
“Okay,” I said. “Thanks, anyway.”
We turned to leave and he held up his hand.
“Hold on!” he said. He hustled back to the pharmacy section, disappeared behind the counter. Reappeared a minute later wearing a white smock and glasses.
He’d even put gel in his hair.
“Hola!” he said, clasping his hands together and smiling. “I’m Doctor Fuentes. How can I help you today?”
I looked around: was this a Mexican Candid Camera deal?
“Ehhhh … a hundred two-milligram Ativan,” I said. “Please.”
“Excellent! We can help you with that.”
He pulled a prescription pad from his pocket, started scribbling. Finished and tore off the sheet.
“Un momento por favor,” he said, and went back behind the counter. Grabbed the appropriate box of Ativan and returned to the cash register with it.
“That will be fifteen dollars, Senor,” he declared. I gave him a twenty and he rang it up, handing me both the Ativan and my change.
I grabbed Diane by the elbow, hustled her towards the door.
“Quick!” I said. “Before he changes back.”