S.M. Park’s column Risen Apes about being a 70-year-old boomer. In “Down Any Street,” Park talks pot smoking, higher education, and dreams.
Except for my Scientology hiatus in the Seventies I’ve smoked marijuana every day for fifty-five years and, as far as I know (my memory and/or judgment being suspect under the circumstances), I get as high as I ever did. Part of this is the higher THC being produced now, another the exotic varieties I keep at hand (current favorite: Trophy Wife), but it’s only pot for christ sakes … you think I’d be immune by now.
Instead all that’s changed (other than my lung capacity) is how it affects my sleep. I’m no fan of dreams to begin with, not because mine aren’t enjoyable—to the contrary they’re generally weird, wildly entertaining docudramas, and I can count on one hand the number of nightmares I’ve had—but how drained my brain feels afterwards, as if my subconscious has plundered my imagination.
In the middle of my stoner years pot neutralized that: the more I smoked and ate marijuana, the less likely I was to dream. I’d still have occasional ones, of course (it wasn’t the blankness of anesthesia), but they were so boring and redundant that I dubbed them “reruns.”
I might have watched an episode of Shameless before falling asleep, for instance, so I’d dream about sharing a park bench pint with “Frank” (Bill Macy). There’d be slight variations as the night dragged on—the bottle turning into a crack pipe, say, or pigeons or an old girlfriend showing up—but mostly it was the same loop over and over.
And that was fine with me: I’d wake up refreshed and ready to go. It’s only in the last decade that the regular dreams (more convoluted than ever) have returned. (I often wake with a start, but that’s mostly sleep apnea.)
What’s disquieting, though, is a twist on the whole rerun aspect, i.e. no matter what’s happening in a dream … I get lost eventually. I’m usually alone and on foot, and my surroundings seem familiar enough, but every turn I make is the wrong one.
I don’t know what irks me more about that, the frustration or what it portends psychologically, that I’m someone who doesn’t fit in. Really? I’m seventy-three and that’s all my subconscious has to offer? I thought we’d settled all that decades ago.
But I shouldn’t complain: if you’d told me at nineteen that I’d smoke pot every day for fifty-odd years and that’s the worst that’d happen I’d have knocked you over reaching for the Zig Zags.
I actually used a Bugler rolling machine and papers in the Fall of ’72, when flush with hay bucking money and back at Evergreen for my senior year I bought a pound of pot.
It was good quality Mexican (by the standards of the day) and after picking through the requisite seeds and stems I proceeded, over the next several days, to roll up every gram of it. This was made easier than it sounds by both the machine and my liberal use of coke and alcohol, until in the end I’d produced nearly four hundred fat, tight joints. I’d stash twenty of them in a Marlboro box every morning.
My buddy Ray Logan and I (a guy who shot heroin/Orange Barrel acid cocktails for concerts back in the day), attended an Evergreen reunion in the mid-Nineties. We graduated in ’73 and the event included all the classes since.
I’d just stepped from a tent (as one of the school’s pioneers they wanted to videotape me, but halfway through, after I told them I’d had to pass a sanity hearing to enroll and only bothered because I knew Evergreen would be a “drug emporium,” they cut the interview short), when a frizzy-haired guy walked by with his wife.
He looked me up and down, then glanced at my name tag and froze.
“Holy shit!” he exclaimed. “Wilson fuckin’ High! You’re still alive?! You gotta be kidding me!”
This pleased me greatly: there’s nothing better than outliving yourself.
“It’s me, all right,” I said, bending over to read his name tag. “Doug Wheeler, eh? Class of ’76? Did I know you back then?”
“Not really,” he said. “I mean we were introduced and all, but I was younger and you were, well, ya know … you!”
“A ‘real cool guy’?” offered Logan.
“No, no, just a crazy one,” scoffed Doug.
He turned to his wife, who’d backed up some.
“This character?” he said. “When you wanted a free joint all you had to do was ask him. They were perfectly rolled and he kept them in a Marlboro box in the top pocket of his jean jacket, with a pint of Mad Dog and bags of psychedelics on the sides.”
“Don’t forget the sidekick,” added Logan.
“Oh yeah! That weird little guy in a cap and baggy pants. What was his name again?”
“Moochie,” I said.
“Riiiight. Hell, he looked higher than you did.”
“He sweated a lot on mescaline.”
“Don’t tell me he’s still alive!”
“Well, sort of. He walks in circles now.”
Ray and I, being a couple sick fucks, had a good laugh over that, and when we looked back Doug’s wife was dragging him away.
In the meanwhile I feel terrible for the kids at COVID colleges now, unable to fully indulge the drinking, drugs and sex that constitute “higher education.”
I feel terrible for the kids at COVID colleges now, unable to fully indulge the drinking, drugs and sex that constitute “higher education.”
But that’s how it works, isn’t it? Whatever you can think of … boomers had it better. It’s why I’d take the lectern at those high school reunions, assure my classmates that the losers among them had come by it honestly, as we’d been afforded every opportunity growing up.
I’m not sure how well received it was (I made my own point by being up there on ’shrooms), but no one’s asked me to speak since.
And dreams? The best ones I ever had were the semi-conscious ones. They only occurred in mental wards when—to counter my delirium—the shrinks gave me five hundred milligrams of Librium in the ass.
The first time it happened I was at Herrick Hospital in Berkeley. I’d taken a shine to an Occupational Therapy nurse and on my fourth day there, after spending the first two in a padded cell and still wearing a strait jacket (I’d chased the admitting room doctor with a butcher knife, then sucker punched a guy on the ward who thought he was Eldridge Cleaver), I beckoned her over with my head.
“Hey!” I said as she walked up. “I’m Wilson.”
“Judy,” she replied, sitting down next to me.
“I’d shake your hand,” I said, “but … well, you know …”
“Of course,” she chirped. She was petite with one of those elfin, Santa’s workshop mugs I can’t resist. “How can I help you today, Wilson?”
“Well, here’s what’s happening, Judy. I’m experiencing something very, very unusual and I wanted to share it with you, see what you thought.”
“Oh, really? And what’s that?”
“I have cartoons on the back of my eyelids.”
To her credit she barely flinched. (She was young but it was a nuthouse: you heard it all pretty quickly in there.) “Cartoons, eh?”
“Right. You know Looney Tunes, don’t you? Bugs Bunny, Woody Woodpecker, Yosemite Sam, Tweety Bird, Elmer Fudd, characters like that?”
“Well, yeah,” she said. “Sure.”
“Then pick one!” I exclaimed. “Tell me who you like and I’ll close my eyes, see them on the back of my eyelids! Isn’t that amazing? It’s been happening since they shot me up with all that Librium. And not just cartoons, Judy, but feature length films with me starring in them!”
I could see her composure cracking.
“I mean who needs books, right?” I added.
She jumped up, patted me on the shoulder. “I’ll find you some help, Wilson. And be sure to visit us in Occupational Therapy when you’re … better.”
“No wait!” I protested. “How about Yosemite Sam … everybody likes Yosemite Sam, right?”
I closed my eyes, lowered my voice to a narrative whisper. “He and I are riding through the desert in a covered wagon. We just killed Bugs Bunny and threw him in the back … we’re making a stew out of him and his carrots later.
“Suddenly Elmer Fudd jumps out from behind a rock. He shoots at us with that blunderbuss of his, but the pellets fly over our heads and we run him over!
“And then! Wow! Get this! Here comes Stephen Stills on a donkey, singing Suite Judy Blue Eyes!”
I thought the last was a nice touch, but when I opened my eyes I was (like most of the patients in there) talking to myself.
But I plowed ahead, anyway, because confusing as sobriety was it also made me horny. So later, during Occupational Therapy classes (the cartoons, sadly enough, disappeared after twenty-four hours), or when I saw Judy in the hallway, I’d chat her up, try to get her to share her home address and, failing that, her phone number.
“Come on,” I’d plead, sucking in my beer gut. (I was over two hundred sixty pounds by then, and that starchy mental ward buffet wasn’t helping.) “We’ll hook up when I get out of here, blow my disability checks on a good time. With only moderate drug and alcohol use, I swear!”
Finally, just before they kicked me out the door, she slipped me a phone number.
It was, of course, for the local police station.