S.M. Park’s column Risen Apes about being a 70-year-old boomer. In “Horn Dog,” Park talks about his 20th high school reunion and his buddy Dwayne who would shape his future.
In the Fall of 1985 I drove to Portland for my twenty-year high school reunion; there were seven hundred kids in our grade and, though I’d been Senior Class President, I’d seen few of them since.
So I was definitely looking forward to the event, as I flat out love reunions. (I was supposed to attend one for my junior high class last summer but it was cancelled by the pandemic.) That seems like a strange stance for a recluse, I suppose, but I’m eternally curious and reunions are the perfect opportunity to see what became of people.
Particularly in a class as large as ours, where there’s so many attendees you only have to spend a minute or two with each one. I was doing just that at the twentieth when I ran into my old buddy Dwayne Hammer.
It was the mid-Eighties at the time, so we were pretty much all on coke. On top of that I’d eaten three grams of ’shrooms because I liked to be psychedelicized when I gave speeches. (It put the edge on, gave a whole new dimension to stage fright, turned the audience into Ralph Steadman creatures.)
Dwayne, though, looked like he’d done twice as much coke as the rest of us. He was an intense bastard, anyway, so I wouldn’t have noticed if he didn’t have the cement mixer jaw going (he was grinding the words out as he spoke).
I hadn’t seen him since ’66, when he visited me in the Bay Area before heading to ’Nam. He’d enlisted in the Marines and spent the next two years firing machine guns from helicopters. (It left him mostly deaf even as it raised my estimation of the military: someone had had the sense to walk down a line of recruits, take one look at Dwayne and think, Oh yeah … machine gunner!)
He stayed with me for a couple days but I remember little of it. (I was living with Lonesome Louie at the time and just beginning my alcoholic odyssey.) Now it was twenty years later and we’d barely hugged each other when he stepped back and grabbed my arm.
“High,” he grunted, working that jaw, “I hear you’re a pot grower in California now.”
“Well, sort of,” I said. “I mean I’ve raised four crops, but thieves got three of ’em.”
“That’s why you need to grow indoors … you can protect your plants that way.”
“For sure,” I laughed. “But that’d mean a house and I can’t afford one of those.”
“I can,” said Dwayne, “and if you move back here I’ll buy a place with a vet loan, put you in there to grow and we’ll be partners.”
Really? I looked him up and down: he seemed serious enough but hell! we all talked big on coke. Then someone pulled me away and my last view of Dwayne was him with an imaginary phone to his ear, mouthing, Call me.
But I didn’t and I’m not sure why. There was the breakup with my longtime girlfriend when I returned to Bolinas, of course, and moving to Forest Knolls and then Petaluma afterwards, even cartooning again for the first time in twenty years, but I should at least have checked with Dwayne. Instead I was sitting on the floor of my Petaluma apartment in January of ’87 (I didn’t own any furniture), pondering my uncertain future, when the phone rang.
It was Hammer. “What the fuck, High!” he exclaimed. “You gonna move here and grow indoors with me or not? I can get a good deal on a house in Southeast Portland.”
“You were serious about that?”
That was enough for me: I had nothing to lose and there were drugs involved.
“Better jail than another job, buddy,” I said, “and thanks. I’ll clean up some loose ends here, see you in a few months.”
That April (a week after my fortieth birthday), Dwayne bought the bungalow where I lived and grew for the next quarter century. As agreed we split the proceeds the first couple years, but it was obvious by then that the level of production wasn’t enough for both of us. To my relief and Hammer’s credit he stepped away for only minimal considerations.
I flat out love reunions. That seems like a strange stance for a recluse, I suppose, but I’m eternally curious and reunions are the perfect opportunity to see what became of people.
While remaining an outsized presence in my life (I probably saw more of him than anyone in those Portland years). It was like having a volcano for a buddy, a fiery, generous, stubborn, loyal, volatile bastard who could explode at any moment. (It was easy to blame it on PTSD from ’Nam, but he’d always been tightly wound.)
I leaned toward testosterone myself: the guy was a major (even rabid) ass bandit. I wrote in a recent column (“Shake ’n Bake”) about the sexual obsessions of my friend Big Dick Rick, but no one howled at the moon like Dwayne. If it had a vagina he’d hit on it, and this included the wives of virtually all our friends.
It was easy for me to ignore: the girls I dated only came out at night and scrupulously avoided that grow house. More important is how Hammer and I, a couple of indolent late bloomers (he’d had nearly as many jobs as I had over the years), both hit our strides in our mid-forties, with me growing pot and him taking over his father’s porn business.
It was like the machine gunning: the guy was a natural. Plus it was the early Nineties, before DVDs or the Internet, so porn magazines and videos were still lucrative. His father had picked up the franchise late in his career and been mostly indifferent to it, but Wayne? He was a whirlwind: if it had a storefront on it he’d walk in, hand out complimentary copies of The Semen Sisters or Dick Licks.
I expected him to be arrested: instead he was The Porn King of Oregon within a decade. Finally his lack of shame suited him and his best clients were Korean groceries. Unlike 7-Elevens and the like they had no interest in concealing the magazines’ titles and covers: instead they’d put the nastiest, most offensive ones front and center.
“More jizz on face!” they’d tell Dwayne. “More butt fucking!”
Business was so good that he bought a large, covered truck to haul his wares from one end of Boregon to the other. In the meanwhile he was free to pursue his own predilections, mainly women with large breasts. He had keys to the house (well, back when the front door locked, anyway), and would come by to check on it during my yearly visits to Amsterdam.
I assumed he used it for assignations, too, but the less I knew about those the better. Then he forgot my return date in ’98 and I was standing in the front room, eyeing a bud with a magnifying glass, when he pushed through the front door with a woman in a Denny’s Restaurant uniform.
Her nametag said “Betty” and she had the largest, most ponderous breasts I’d ever seen: they hung below her waist like feedbags. Plus her Dolly Parton wig was askew and she must have been twenty years older than Dwayne.
It was a grisly tableau, made worse by Dwayne’s panting. My God! I thought, is this where he does his business? On the living room carpet?
He finally looked up from Betty’s breasts. Seemed startled to see me there.
“High!?” he said. “What the fuck are you doin’ here?”
“I was about to ask you the same thing,” I said.
“But … aren’t you back early?”
“No, you must have your dates mixed up.”
He grunted, spun Betty around, escorted her and her breasts back out the door. I stepped over to the front window, saw he’d parked his Pornmobile in my driveway. Watched as he and Betty climbed in the back, slamming the doors behind them. He must have mounted her right there on the truck bed, because along with the grunting you could hear videos tumbling from the racks overhead.
What a scene. There was a hipster coffeeshop on the corner and it was still daylight, so before long a small crowd had gathered on the sidewalk out front, pointing and smirking as the truck rocked up and down.
When Dwayne finally came they gave a Bronx cheer. (This when I counted on anonymity to keep me out of jail.)
As the years went by I kicked around the idea of working for him, more out of curiosity than anything else. So one day, after a couple brownies and joints, I consented to a trial sales call. He drove us to a small Korean grocery, handed me a box of videos and magazines.
“Just go in,” he said, “tell whoever’s behind the counter that you’re there to restock the shelves. Leave an invoice when you’re done.”
I could do that. I walked inside, saw the place was empty except for the clerk. She wasn’t Korean but a tattooed, emaciated white girl from Planet Goth, featuring a spiked collar and hair, black lipstick and nose rings.
She also had an unusually large head.
“I’m, eh, here to restock the shelves,” I said.
“With what?” she asked coyly.
I reached in, pulled out a Blondes Have More Cum video.
“Oh, right” she said. “Where’s Dwaaayne?”
I started to say I was subbing for him, then wondered what that might entail. “He’s, eh, busy today,” I said, “so I’m covering his route.”
She nodded and pointed to the video rack. It was right beside the counter and, as I filled it with selections from the box, the girl (her name tag said “Sandy”) leaned over to watch.
“Cream Team’s okay,” she murmured, “but Tastes Like Chicken is way overrated and … wait! Stop! Is that a 409 video!?”
I paused, checked out the cover. Sure enough, it was titled 409. I figured it was a reference to the car of the same name, then noticed three guys on the cover. All they wore were boots and gun belts.
Sandy reached over and grabbed it. “I haven’t seen this in ages!” she exclaimed. “It’s a classic!”
I just looked at her.
“You don’t know it?” she said. “Come on! It’s these three naked guys with gun belts, but instead of pistols they’ve bottles of 409 in their holsters. Then, after they butt fuck a chick, they pull it out and clean their dicks.”
I burst out laughing, mostly to hide my mortification. My God, I thought, I’m a porn dealer, the lowest of the low, the scum of the earth, and she thinks she can tell me anything! This is how it is for Dwayne every day.
No wonder he liked it. Me? I couldn’t get back to the truck fast enough. I hopped in the cab, handed over the copy of the invoice.
“So,” asked Hammer, “what’d you think?”
“I have a new appreciation for what you do, Dwayne,” I said.
“Really, man? You mean that?”
The irony being that no one changed the course of my life like Dwayne Hammer. For openers there was the indoor growing itself: I’d never have had the opportunity without him. Then, on top of it, he made me buy that house in 1999.
That was a hard one for me. It’s a stretch to say I’d never thought of owning a home, but if I had I didn’t remember it. Part of it was fiscal, of course, all those years without a penny to my name, and now that I finally had loot it came from a criminal enterprise, so what bank would loan me money? (They wouldn’t even issue me a credit card.)
More importantly, though, I wasn’t interested in owning anything, much less a house. I liked good drugs, a decent typewriter and a car that started, but otherwise everything in that house had come from friends. (When they had a couch, table, chair or television that needed tossing they’d give it to me instead, save themselves a trip to the dump.)
I wasn’t interested in owning anything, much less a house. I liked good drugs, a decent typewriter and a car that started.
But a whole house? With upkeep and taxes and untold other responsibilities? Just the thought of it made me shudder.
When I told Dwayne that he sighed and leaned forward.
“Listen,” he said, talking slowly and deliberately (as if to a child). “You’re 52 years old now and it’s time to grow up, think about something except your next joint. My wife and I are divorcing, so she’ll get this house in the settlement, and she’s going to sell it whether you’re the buyer or not, which’ll put an end to your growing career.”
“Jesus,” I moaned. “What if I double the rent instead?”
“She’s a regular human being, Wilson: she doesn’t want to own a grow house. If the narcs bust you she could lose it.”
“Twice the rent and free ounces for your kids,” I countered.
“You don’t get it, man. I mean what are you going to do when you’re old? Your Social Security will be a pittance and you’ve never saved a dime in your life.”
I mulled it over. “Bekins box?” I said finally.
“Exactly! Where if I fix it so you can buy this place, and you turn around and sell it in ten or fifteen years, you could walk away with a hundred, maybe a hundred and fifty thousand bucks.”
It was closer to a quarter million, actually, even as he had to drag me to the mortgage company to sign the papers. (In the end the only difference between renting a home and owning one was the taxes, as I still ignored the upkeep.) I got top dollar for it in 2013 anyway, when the Portland real estate market exploded, after which I moved to Port Townsend, bought this place and, after owning it a few years, turned around and sold it to my buddy Rick Silverdale for another quarter million.
Now I rent it back from him and my years here have been the best of my life, all because of Dwayne. How can you repay a debt like that?
You start with acting like he knows what he’s doing when, a year after I relocated and he’d sold the porn business, he called me up.
“Just wanted to say good-bye, High,” he said.
“Really? Where ya’ going, amigo?”
“I’m divorcing Tracy (his giant bosomed second wife) and moving to Thailand.”
I thought about it for a moment. “Don’t tell me,” I said. “You wanna be a ‘sexual patriot’.”
“Well … yeah!”