S.M. Park’s column Risen Apes about being a 70-year-old boomer. In “Working From Home,” Park talks about his home, which was also his grow house, before pot was legal.
I cancelled my subscription to Sports Illustrated this morning. I’ve been getting it at disparate locations up and down the Left Coast for the last fifty years: it’d be there on Fridays whether I was living in a wino hotel, a dorm or a bunkhouse. The first thing I’d do in every new town, in fact, is head to the post office for Change of Address forms.
Even as I rarely looked at it right away. Instead I’d toss it next to the toilet, read it front to back over the ensuing week.
Now I use Trump for constipation and read Sports Illustrated online. I don’t see how magazines survive in this digital age. In my quarter century in Portland, when I knew I’d finally be in the same place for a while (jail notwithstanding), I subscribed to fifteen magazines at once. Some were weeklies, others monthlies, but at least forty publications passed through that grow house every thirty days.
That’s a lot of reading. (I only subscribe to two now, The New Yorker and The Sun, and with my eyesight worsening it’s hard to keep up with them.) No wonder a sea of printed matter stretched from my couch to the far side of the living room.
I can imagine friends and customers warning first-time visitors:
“Okay, pal, the place is dark and has a haunted house feel with all the spider webs and strange sounds. When we walk in High will be where he always is, in a corner of the old couch. He doesn’t get up to greet you because he’s knee-deep in magazines, paperbacks and drawings.”
“You mean the front door isn’t locked?”
“It doesn’t even have a lock anymore.”
“But I thought you said it was a grow house.”
“It is. And here’s another thing: that crunching you hear when you walk across the floor? That’s small buds stuck in the carpet. They fall off the plants when he’s manicuring, but don’t scoop them up yourself … it’s considered bad form.”
Now that I think about it there were few repeat visitors, either. (Certainly not wives: they’d wait outside in the car.) I justified no lock on the front door by sleeping four feet away from it. (As if that would have mattered: anyone stealing pot would be armed and I’ve never shot a gun, much less owned one.) The house had two bedrooms and a large attic, and I spent twenty-five years sleeping on a futon in the front room.
And I wasn’t even a wino anymore: I was grossing a tax-free seventy grand a year and still searching for a woman to share the dream.
What glorious, wondrous buffoons human beings are: I look back at that me (as I do most of my adult life) and marvel at how little my existence mirrored those of my peers. I was a fringe character by nature and had long sensed that—in the absence of kids or ambition—experiences were all I had.
Running a pot business in that house afforded me plenty of those, and given that I’d transformed a sixty-year-old bungalow into a nursery it required a lot of maintenance, too.
Even as I couldn’t allow service people on the premises. This was something of a dilemma, as I’m the most mechanically disinclined person I’ve ever met. It’s mostly disinterest, but when I was young I blamed it on my father, who (after inheriting a plumbing business he loathed) thought he was doing his sons a favor by keeping them ignorant of tool use.
He should have made me take Shop in high school, I’d think later (when a foreman was screaming at me for not knowing a nut from a bolt), but I probably would have flunked, anyway. What saved me in Portland is how many of my friends and customers were tradesmen; I’d exchange them bud for their labor and, if they needed money, I’d provide that, too.
I was as careless with cash as I was the pot. When a problem I could have handled arose, like the broken washer and dryer the previous owner left behind, I went to laundromats for twenty-five years instead of replacing them. It would have meant dragging them up and down the steep basement stairs and I just never got around to it; it was easier to accumulate two months’ worth of T-shirts, underwear, socks and towels, limiting my laundromat visits to six a year.
Imagine searching for Ms. Right under those circumstances. I mean … who or what would the poor woman be, and where had she been hiding? As it was every romance I had ended when girlfriends saw how I lived. I could stave that off for months (even a year in one case) because I found them through the Personals and rarely ended up with other drug users. Cannabis cultivation was very dangerous in the Eighties and Nineties (punishable by two to five years in prison and the forfeiture of your home), so in their minds a “grow house” was the last place they wanted to be.
I’d say it lent me a certain outlaw cache, too, but come on … these were desperate women or they wouldn’t have been with me in the first place. In the meanwhile I nudged their apprehension along, muttering about cops and thieves, looking over my shoulder a lot and assuring them that, no, they wouldn’t have to wait for me if I went to prison.
The yard was a different matter altogether. I’d grown large annual gardens during my Bolinas years, but now that I was raising pot twenty-four hours a day/seven days a week horticulture had lost its allure. I would have just ignored the outside of the house except: (1) it’d attract undue attention from the neighbors; and (2) I knew those girlfriends did drive-bys, so I had to strike a balance between grim and seedy.
I was as careless with cash as I was the pot. When a problem I could have handled arose, like the broken washer and dryer the previous owner left behind, I went to laundromats for twenty-five years instead of replacing them.
Here again a gardener (or even a kid with a lawn mower) were out of the question, because when the wind was just right the place smelled like a skunk farm. (The reason my mailman received six-year-old Glenlivet scotch every Christmas.)
This left me to do the mowing and pruning myself. There are people who actually enjoy those activities (i.e. most of my neighbors here in North Beach), but to me lawns, in particular, are the worst idea human beings ever had. My solution was to get them over with: buy expensive, cordless mowers, then “sprint cut” the grass at high speed. I’d do it just before sundown, limiting the gawkers from the sidewalk, as I had a nagging fear of old teammates hearing about it.
They swore I’d never run in my life and I hated to shatter their illusions. Otherwise I lived the dream (which was, after all, the point). There was always plenty of reading, drawing and walking to do, the plants required little of me (and then only in spurts), and I wrote my first memoir in that house, along with growing psychedelic mushrooms and searching the world—first via research and later in person—for the best marijuana seeds.
Everything but the job I was paid for, actually, working as a security guard in a friend’s warehouse: in exchange for bud he listed me on the payroll for twenty years and I barely knew where the place was. It kept me on the tax rolls and meant that—at least officially—I ended my working life as the factotum I’d always been. (I even applied for unemployment benefits when business slowed and he had to “lay me off” for a while, but the State kept finding me real security guard jobs!)
People thought indoor pot growing was about hard work and risk, in other words (the reason I could charge three hundred an ounce for my wares), but to me it was mostly just acting, convincing the neighbors (and any cop or thief who was interested) that I wasn’t a criminal but a bachelor sad sack, a struggling cartoonist barely scraping by.
I must have pulled it off, because in 2013 I sold that dump and moved here to paradise. As I look back on that quarter century of drugs and crime it’s no wonder the memories blur together, even as there’s no disputing my favorite moment in that house.
It was the night a group of Fundamentalist Christians picketed the porn theater down the street. I was naked on the couch with a woman I’d met through a Personals ad, and (in a vain attempt to minimize the haunted house vibe) had kept the living room dark.
I thought it was working until, at the very moment I slipped inside her, those Christians started chanting:
“HEY, MISTER! GET OFF MY SISTER! HEY, MISTER! GET OFF MY SISTER!”
I looked down, saw she was already sorry she’d met me.