S.M. Park

Risen Apes: Shake ’n Bake

S.M. Park’s column Risen Apes about being a 70-year-old boomer. In “Shake ’n Bake,” Park talks about his buddy Rick Murphy and some of their misadventures.

 

I watched the launch of SpaceX a few months ago, intrigued by something humanity does well, and when the astronauts emerged onto the platform I was struck by their uniforms. They were designed by Elon Musk and made me think of the “Ratite Protective Gear” my old buddy Rick Murphy used to make.

 

 

I met him at an emu show in Portland in 1994. My brother Ben had convinced me of the merits of the big birds and, flush with pot cash, I’d shelled out six grand for a breeding pair he kept on his farm. They were strange-looking bastards, and after seeing a drawing I’d done of them a friend suggested I put emus and ostriches on T-shirts, take advantage of the burgeoning ratite craze.

So I went to that Portland show on a Saturday afternoon to check out the market. The crowd was reasonably big and l walked from booth to booth appraising the vendors’ wares. Several of them offered T-shirts but the designs were nothing special, so that was encouraging.

Then I came to the end of a row and standing behind a table piled high with overalls and a large jewelry case was Rick Murphy.

I tend to like people instantly (disliking them generally takes longer). It isn’t a fair or reliable impulse (particularly when it comes to women), but it happens before I can think about it.

It was like that with Murphy. He was a husky guy with thick gray hair, a drooping mustache and a shit-eating grin. When I stopped at his booth he turned to the woman helping him.

“He’s here,” he told her.

She turned around, glanced up at me. “Who’s here?” she said.

“The guy who’s gonna get me high.”

I was taken aback. I wasn’t some long-haired hippie anymore, I was a 48-year-old bald character in an Eddie Bauer shirt and Niners cap. How did he know I was a stoner?

Then I remembered what I did for a living.

“Smelled it, didn’t you?” I asked.

“When you were three booths away, pal,” he said, coming around the table and steering me towards an exit. “Let’s smoke one out back.”

We ended up behind the arena in his battered Chevy van. When I pulled out my joint case, offered him a choice of five different varieties, he laughed and stuck out his hand.

“I knew you’d have good shit,” he said. “My name’s Rick Murphy. Or, as my friends like to call me: BDR.”

“Wilson High,” I replied, shaking his hand. “And what’s ‘BDR’ stand for?”

“Big Dick Rick.” he said. Then grinned, squeezed his package through his jeans.

It was good to get that out of the way, and we were soon smoking and chatting like a couple old buddies. He’d grown up in Wisconsin but left for the West Coast after high school, moving around as I often as I had while sharing the same objective, i.e. staying as high as possible. Unlike me he was a hustler who’d acquired useful trades along the way, one of which was jewelry making. He had his own kiln where he lived (in Silver Falls, Washington), and designed bracelets and earrings for the emu/ostrich crowd along with Ratite Protective Gear (or “RPG”). (The birds have long, deadly talons, and the uniform protected against their slashing.) When I told him about my T-shirt idea and showed him a few of the sketches I’d brought along (in case I met someone like him), he nodded his head in approval.

“Oh, you’ll do great,” he said, “particularly at the big shows. I’ve been to a few of ’em now and these are way better than what I saw there.”

“Well thanks … BDR,” I said. “I appreciate that.”

“No problem.” Then he swallowed the Chronic roach (the way stoners used to), pointed to my joint case.

“Let’s try the Grandaddy Purple next.

By the time we returned the show was over. We stayed in touch afterwards, meeting up at conventions and visiting each other’s homes. His was a two-story job on the edge of nowhere in Silver Falls, where he lived with his soon to be ex-girlfriend, Kylie Sue. (He didn’t lose lovers he told me, just “used them up.”)

With the exception of my old friend Dwayne Hammer (the “Porn King of Oregon”), Rick was easily the horniest guy I’d ever met. You couldn’t go in a restaurant, grocery or coffee shop without him hitting on anything female, and he talked about sex incessantly.

It was irritating but also (at least among men) the easiest subject to ignore, as it merited little response, anyway. Rick’s main regret was he hadn’t gone into porn; instead he sold jewelry in stores around Spokane and traveled the ratite convention circuit. I’d signed on after our first meeting myself, developing a successful line of T-shirts, sweatshirts and greeting cards that supplemented my criminal income nicely.

But I didn’t take it too seriously. I enjoyed the travel (visiting cities I never would have experienced otherwise), and the challenge of creating new and interesting designs for a nationwide audience, but it was more hobby than business.

 

I tend to like people instantly (disliking them generally takes longer). It isn’t a fair or reliable impulse (particularly when it comes to women), but it happens before I can think about it.

 

So when Rick called me in January of ’96, suggested we sign up for the Northwest Emu Expo in Woodward, Oklahoma six weeks later, I scoffed.

“What have you been smokin’?” I asked. “That’s a non-starter.”

“Oh, come on, High,” he said. “We’ll take my van and I’ll drive. All you’ve gotta do is sit there.”

Woodward, Oklahoma? Where the hell’s that?”

“The northwest corner of the state. On the edge of the Texas/Oklahoma panhandle actually.”

“And the event’s in what? A rec center?”

“No, no. A Holiday Inn.”

I laughed. “So you want us to drive cross country in your twenty-year-old van—in the middle of a freezing, terrible winter no less—for a show where if we’re lucky there’ll be a hundred people?”

“Not just any people, pal, but poor ones. Remember: it’s panhandle country.”

“That’s the dumbest thing I ever heard, Murphy.”

“My point exactly!”

This was how two guys with nothing to lose talked each other into their misadventures. I thought about it for a minute (mostly to make him sweat), then sat up and laughed.

“Well, fuck it, Rick,” I said, “I’ve never driven that far for nothing before. Let’s do it.”

It reminded me of my cross-country jaunt with Tank and Brad five years earlier (Higher Power”), where I’d also been responsible for the cubensis mushroom/pot stash. These would prove particularly crucial on the Woodward drive, as it’d take four to five days to get there (depending on the weather) and offer little in the way of scenery or entertainment.

So Murphy arrived in Portland at the end of February and we loaded my shirts in the back. I’d offered to rent us a van but he wouldn’t hear of it: he treated that old Chevy like it was roadworthy.

I’d piloted many wrecks myself over the years, but rarely in the kind of whiteouts we encountered once we reached Idaho. On top of that there was no tape deck or radio and the heater barely worked: we were forced to huddle in our parkas, hoods and gloves. (The only upside was the broken windshield wiper on my side … it meant I couldn’t see the horror unfolding in front of us.)

It would have been a suicide mission straight. As it was we’d have a hot breakfast in the morning (after sharing a seedy motel room, Rick wanted to sleep in the van but I had to draw the line somewhere), then smoke a joint of primo and eat ’shrooms before setting out.

“Just to keep the edge on,” Rick would say (as if the blizzards weren’t harrowing enough), while I only did ’shrooms every other day in deference to my liver. We weren’t twenty anymore, after all, but fifty, so as dangerous as being psychedelicized in a snowstorm used to be it was totally nuts now.

Even stranger was to look across the cab, see someone determined to do it with you. (Much less a character who, like me, preferred mind benders to cocaine, so there wasn’t all that tedious snorting to deal with.) The propensity of super enablers in my life, functional addicts who believed higher was always better, is one of the things I’m most grateful for.

Still he was Big Dick Rick from Milwaukie, and on ’shrooms he only got hornier (the only thing that kept him from humping a snow bank was the cold), so he settled on hitting on waitresses at truck stops, figuring the wider the net the more likely the score.

Fortunately it only happened once (with a pimply Nebraska motel clerk), because he shared the sordid details afterwards. The drive to Woodward took a full five days and, given all the slow going behind snowplows, went fairly quickly.

The good news was the Holiday Inn had a convention center, so we wouldn’t be doing the show in a lobby or hallway. The bad? That was the highlight of the weekend, as the harsh weather scared off all but the most intrepid customers.

By then Rick and I were bent enough that the trip had taken on a dark, Fear and Loathing in Oklahoma mien, where the ranchers in attendance (everyone had on cowboy hats, including the wives and kids and grandmas, and how did you raise emus in that kind of weather, anyway?), morphed into grisly Dust Bowl specters.

 

 

It got so strange on Saturday that I looked across the room to Murphy’s booth, wondering if he was feeling The Dread, too. At first I couldn’t spot him, then realized he was crouched beneath a card table, shuddering violently as he clawed at the carpet. It certainly made me feel better (even as he disputed my interpretation later, claimed he’d simply been searching for a lost bracelet.)

When Sunday dawned we swore to end our psilocybin binge, stick to the bag of Super Silver Haze I’d brought along. Rick sold a couple RPG uniforms just before closing and, with a thousand-dollar gross of my own, we had enough for gas and expenses on the trip home.

Assuming we made it. The weather had worsened, so somewhere on Interstate 25 in Colorado, driving in the dead of night through subzero temperatures, the van—which had been dying every twenty minutes or so, anyway—began such a fitful shuddering that we pulled to the side of the road.

Murphy was a handy guy but couldn’t pinpoint the problem. Was this the end? Would a couple guys on the road to nowhere actually die there? We were certainly the only vehicle around, as nobody else was out in that mess. I looked over at Rick, buried in his puffy parka and hood, and snickered.

“What a finale,” I said, teeth chattering. “When they find us we’ll be popsicles.”

“Might as well go out as champs then,” said Murphy. “Fire up that Silver Haze.”

I had two joints rolled and we smoked both of them before there was a knock on Rick’s window.

We would have jumped but we were too cold. I slowly turned my head, saw there was a truck with its headlights on behind us. How had we missed that?

Murphy cranked down the window, revealing the face of an earnest young guy in a wool cap. He started to speak, then coughed, waved his hand in front of his face and fell backwards, engulfed in a cloud of smoke.

“Holy shit, Ben!” he called to his buddy. “We got us a couple Bob Marleys here!”

His partner appeared at the window (looking younger yet) and shook his head.

“Wow!” he laughed. “We were wondering if you were dead and you’re getting loaded in here? That’s fucked up … especially for two old guys.”

“Want some?” said Rick, offering the smoldering roach.

“It’s a blizzard out here, dude!” he said, jerking his thumb at the snow blowing sideways behind him. “Who gets high in a blizzard?”

Turns out they were enterprising locals who drove the Interstate in snowstorms, rescuing stranded drivers. When Murphy explained what had been going on with the van they guaranteed they could fix it for a hundred dollars.

“Well, I don’t know,” said Rick. “That sounds like a lot.”

“Oh, fuck that!” I reached into my pocket, pulled out a Ben Franklin. Handed it to them through the window.

They told Murphy to open the hood, and one of them bent over the engine while the other returned to their truck. He came back with a ragged piece of cardboard, slid it between the radiator and the engine wall, then signaled for Rick to start the engine.

He did: it sputtered at first, but gradually came around. They slammed down the hood and returned to the window.

“All fixed,” said the first one. “Happens with old cars all the time out here … the air’s so cold your engine can’t warm itself, but if you put cardboard in front of the radiator everything’s fine.”

I was grateful. “Boys,” I said, “you’re the Angels of I-25.”

“Sure, stoner,” said the second guy, looking at Murphy’s glassy eyes. “We’d tell you to be careful but well, it’s a little late for that.”

“Yeah,” scoffed his buddy. “We’ll see you up the road.”

But Murphy puttered off and, except for occasional spinouts, returned us to Portland intact. I didn’t think about the trip much afterwards, as my crop was ready to harvest by then and the vagaries of manicuring, drying, packaging and selling the bud kept me busy for weeks.

Then Rick called again.

“You know, High,” he said, “that whole Oklahoma experience, the fact we did something so dangerous just for the hell of it, has got me thinking lately.”

“That sounds ominous,” I said. “About what?”

“Oh, you know, the usual shit: life, mortality, what I’m doing here.”

“And what’d you decide?” I steeled myself for the possibility that, unlikely as it seemed, my irreverent buddy had seen the light.

He had, but not in the way I expected:

“I’m Big Dick Rick and I’m selling myself short!” he exclaimed. “If I’m going to do crazy shit, I need to make it worth it!”

“Oh, absolutely,” I said.

“I need to get much, much higher for openers!”

“Exactly.”

“So I’m selling everything I own and moving to Peru to drink Ayahuasca for the rest of my life!”

I don’t know how many people he shared that with, but I was probably the only one who told him it was a great idea. That was twenty years ago and for the first ten of them Rick sent occasional postcards. They were photos he’d glued to cardboard, usually of him in a tight loincloth, surrounded by village girls.

They’re gazing at his bulging member and grinning appreciatively. To his credit (or maybe because the Ayahuasca was working), he left the message section blank.

 

S.M. Park is the author and illustrator of his memoirs High & Dry and The Grass Is Greener, both published by University of Hell Press.

 

S.M. Park

S.M. Park lives two blocks from the Salish Sea in Port Townsend, Washington. His passions include walking, wondering and weed. Park, in his guise as Wilson High, has written and illustrated two memoirs, High & Dry and The Grass Is Greener, both published by University of Hell Press.

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