S.M. Park’s column Risen Apes about being a 70-year-old boomer. In “There But for Fortune,” Park admires Kerouac’s writing process for On the Road and attempts the same using cocaine.
I have a deal with my grower buddy Mungo Jerry (who moved here three years after I did) where I buy a hundred bucks worth of feminized seeds online, then he raises them and gives me an ounce of buds in return. (That’s as much as I can smoke in a couple months at seventy-four, anyway.) He’s a legendary Bay Area cultivator, and I’ve been purchasing seeds since 1985, so it works out well for both of us.
Last week he brought samples from his latest crop, a mix of Strawberry Cough, Gorilla Glue #4, Gelato, Wedding Cake and Critical Mass. It was all primo stuff and provided a dazzling array of tastes, bouquets and highs.
He’ll call later to ask what I thought of it but that’s mostly rhetorical, as virtually all commercial pot is great these days. He and I spent decades in the business and (for most of that time) when someone gave you a seed (or even when you found a stray one in a bud) you had zero idea what you were getting. Its provenance and breeding history, whether it was male or female (or worse: hermaphroditic), its climate preference, quantity and quality potential and flowering time were all a crapshoot … you could blow your summer babysitting ragweed.
Which is exactly what I did in 1985, germinating seeds I found in an ounce of Hawaiian; it’d been an excellent stone (even with the smattering of seeds) and I thought I’d hit the jackpot.
But I grossly underestimated what Hawaii’s rich soil and tropical climate contribute to weed grown there, raising my twelve plants on a steep Marin hillside instead. It was covered with prickly Manzanita but my buddy DeBola owned the property so—desperate to find somewhere to grow—I convinced myself those thorny bushes were a bonus, that they’d not only conceal my girls but protect them from thieves.
I got that much right, anyway; the rest was a total nightmare. Cutting a maze through the five-foot-tall Manzanita on my hands and knees, clawing twelve four by four holes in the rocky soil and dragging a ton of mushroom compost up the hill to fill them (two cubic feet at a time), all in blistering ninety-degree heat while suffering a bout of internal poison oak (from a homeopathic remedy I drank to combat the regular kind), then crawling through the same corridors for months afterwards to feed, water and pamper the plants … those five months taught me more about myself than I needed to know, in particular how all the friends and family who claimed I was too lazy or indifferent to succeed were dead wrong because I’d obviously do anything to get high.
Which is, ironically, just what that “Hawaiian” crop didn’t do. I harvested every gram of it (nearly four pounds worth, after having three of my previous four crops stolen) … and it was the worst marijuana I ever grew (barely better than hemp).
This was an emotional and financial disaster, of course, but cannabis cultivation was full of hard lessons and, not only didn’t they deter me, they strengthened my resolve. I was determined to make it as a grower and can’t remember a time (from the moment I germinated my first seed in ’81) when I strayed from that path.
Plus I could eat poison oak now and it wouldn’t affect me.
Speaking of Mungo Jerry: he and his wife share the same financial predicament I do (having blown our ill-gotten gains on good times and travel back in the day). Their solution is to move to Mexico in a couple years—they’ve lived down there before, even owned a restaurant on the Baja Peninsula in the Nineties—and want me to come along. Claim we can buy a couple houses on the same property (near Oaxaca City) for a third of what they’d cost here.
I love them dearly and their savvy would certainly smooth the transition … but Mexico? I’ve had some pretty dicey times down there. Alcoholism. Whores. Gunfire. The Tijuana divorce. Border pharmacies for drugs. Driving across a desert with a lunatic, then crossing the Rio Grande in a car. It was a long time ago (and probably had more to do with the Mescal than the country), but it’s not like I’ve longed to return.
Plus there’s all the practicalities involved (particularly at this age), like medical care, cuisine, weather, visas, language, transportation and, most importantly, quality of pot. Estate planning is not my strong suit (I generally look no further than the amount of marijuana on hand) and I’d hoped to die here in Port Townsend.
Then my mother lived to a hundred-and-one and a telomeres test suggested I’d last nearly that long. It was obvious then that I was screwed, that the twilight years had done what my first seventy couldn’t, i.e. provide an honest glimpse of my future.
It wasn’t a pretty sight, any more than the loss of so many old friends has been. I received word yesterday that Doug Casey, a kid I grew up with, had passed away in Vegas. He, Tom Canby, Hugh Duff, Nick Mason and I were inseparable as teenagers, and now they were all dead from cocaine.
I can close my eyes, still see us lounging around Canby’s bathhouse in our white T-shirts and slicked-back hair, circa ’61, chain-smoking Marlboros and trading insults. We were the class “give-a-shits” but came by it honestly, as few mistook us for long haulers, the kind of guys who’d outlive their bad habits.
But the fact all four of them are gone now (while dying slowly and horribly at that), while I was as fond of the nose candy as they were, speaks—not only to my shortcomings as an addict—but this odd body I’m housed in.
I first encountered coke in the Fall of ’72, my last year at Evergreen, when this dealer named Howie (we called him “Golem”) introduced it on campus.
I first encountered coke in the Fall of ’72, my last year at Evergreen, when this dealer named Howie (we called him “Golem”) introduced it on campus. I don’t remember what it cost a gram (it was out of my range regardless, as all my spare cash went to psychedelics and alcohol), but if you went to his house and played Monopoly with him you could wheedle free snorts.
He was so obnoxious, in other words, that a bribe was necessary. Word got around and the next thing you knew his house was full of hippies; you didn’t even have to play anymore, just act like you wanted to, and Golem would lay out lines every half hour or so.
Soon we were bringing booze and other opiates along and it devolved into a strange scene where—after snorting our allotment—a group of us would retire to the living room, jitter jabber on the couches while awaiting the next cattle call.
We were the craven young dudes of Evergreen, and if groveling to Golem for handouts wasn’t shameful enough you could always fuck his wife in the back room. (I passed on that one, but only to keep my place in the coke line.)
The drug had snared me from the first snort, as I’m an extremely diurnal person (rarely sleeping past dawn until my seventies), and the late nights that a life of dissipation required were difficult for me. Throw in my intolerance to coffee and the poor meth of the time and I was forced to use psychedelics to stay awake.
There’s worse fates, of course, but with coke’s help I could do mind benders and booze all night (“High’s blackout trifecta” as my friends called it).
There were consequences certainly, not the least of which was constipation. I was trying to relieve mine at Golem’s one night and, for reasons I can’t recall, was using his personal bathroom instead of the guest one.
I was hunched on the toilet seat (not really expecting results) and wondering why so few people kept reading material in their bathrooms, when—more out of boredom than anything else—I reached over, slid open the knee-high cabinet next to me.
I figured it’d be full of toilet paper: instead the only thing in there was a large bag of powder. White, fluffy powder. I closed my eyes, waited a few seconds, then opened them again. Saw the baggie was still there.
Jesus! I marveled. Could it be? Is that coke I see?
I leaned over, took a closer look, saw 3 Lbs. scrawled on the side. Slid the baggie onto my knees, undid the tie, dipped my finger in the powder and coated my lips and gums with it.
Oh yeah, baby, I thought, that be the coke!
I sat back, bowel movement forgotten, and weighed the pros and cons of what I was about to do, because though I’d never stolen drugs before I was damn sure taking some of that cocaine home. For openers I was too fucked up to resist (who knows how many things I was on), so it was easy to lay it off on Golem, tell myself he’d never miss it, or he should have hidden it better, or what I stole was no more than I’d snort off the Monopoly board in a week.
Finally decided I was probably in a blackout anyway, so when I woke the next morning, saw the coke, it’d just be another in a long line of mysteries.
I returned the three pounds to the shelf, pulled up my jeans and strolled to the kitchen, asking Golem where his sandwich bags were. (I was “hiding in plain sight” in other words, the way I grew dope later.) Slipped one baggie inside another, returned to the bathroom and figured two handfuls of powder was enough.
That amounted to maybe an ounce-and-a-half of blow, and when I saw the baggie on the carpet the next morning I remembered exactly where it had come from. Felt a quick stab of guilt, then reminded myself it hadn’t been a frivolous theft, that I had big plans for that coke.
I was living in the backroom of an old, deserted bungalow at the time. I’d shared it with a couple roommates since October, then a heavy winter snowstorm hit, freezing the pipes in the ceiling.
When they thawed they took the roof and a couple walls down with them, leaving nothing but my bedroom intact, so after my roommates left I stuck around. (I’d been sleeping in my car before moving there, so even with no heat, electricity or running water it was an upgrade.) My only furniture was a knee-high table I’d found in a dumpster, but I used a poker windfall to buy fifty half-cases of Lucky Lager eleven ouncers, then stack them against the walls for insulation.
When that wasn’t enough I cut head and arm holes from the bottom of a sleeping bag, wore that around all day. Pissing was no problem (I’d just open the door), but craps meant a trip to the frozen woods out back. (Fortunately the constipation kept those grim odysseys to a minimum.) Otherwise there was a gym on campus for my bi-weekly shower and I stored cheese and cold cuts in a cooler for food.
It wasn’t ideal (I could usually see my breath, for instance) and was tantamount to living in a beer cooler, but the work and the highs were more important to me than comfort.
In the meanwhile I didn’t know I was a one-trick pony as a writer yet, still thought I had the Great American Novel in me. I was on an Evergreen “writing contract” that Fall, which meant I’d been excused from classes to work on my “novel.” The first few chapters were due soon and I had nothing; I’d written rivers of words but thrown them all out (as I often did back then).
But that coke of Golem’s? That changed everything. I was lukewarm about Kerouac’s On the Road but loved how he’d written it, churning it out over a period of days while hopped up on Benzedrine. I figured I’d substitute cocaine, just snort and type, snort and type ’til I’d spit out an epic of my own.
With side helpings of pot, mescaline and beer, of course (it was necessary to grease the wheels, keep the “Cocaine Blues” at bay). It was mid-November when I began and I remember that first day vividly, sitting with my back against the wall and my legs stretched out in front of me, poised on the precipice of a great adventure. Besides the sleeping bag I was wearing fingerless gloves and had the table pulled up to my waist, with a battery-powered lantern, an ashtray, a carton of Chesterfields, a ream of paper, a bottle of Lucky, a jar of mescaline, a rolled-up dollar bill and the bag of coke on either side of my typewriter.
I rolled a clean sheet of paper into the carriage, lit a cigarette, took a couple hits of blow and I was off.
Things get sketchy after that. My next real memory, in fact, is waking up blind three weeks later. If I could have looked around I’d have noticed that—not only had I drank most of my “insulation”—but there was a sea of bottles, butts and paper surrounding me.
I shook my head, pounded it on the carpet a few times but still nothing, I could barely open my eyes, much less see anything, and was starting to wonder if “snow blind” was a real thing. I’d felt increasing pressure behind my pupils as the days wore on, I remembered that much, but it seemed no worse than the other somatics on a cocaine/alcohol/psychedelics binge.
Sanity was my main concern. It had seemed in peril lately, particularly over the last week, so when I felt myself coming unmoored I’d: (1) drink faster; and (2) double down on the writing itself, telling myself not to judge, not to redo, Just let ’er flow, baby!
Which was harder than it sounds because I’ve always been a tight-ass perfectionist, both as a writer and a cartoonist. I was hoping to free my inner self this time around, to unmask the “blackout me” on paper, and that required extreme lubrication.
I was hoping to free my inner self this time around, to unmask the “blackout me” on paper, and that required extreme lubrication.
My sight, though … that was a bridge too far, so I was relieved when—after massaging my eye sockets and sinuses for a while—my vision slowly returned. When it was fully back I gazed out on that pyramid of typewritten pages and thought, Damn! I fuckin’ did it! Even if I’m a hack there’s gotta be something worthwhile in there!
I wanted to dive in, begin reading right away, but decided to sober up first, have a shower and some hot meals on campus, maybe stay with friends in the dorms for a night or two. Then return fully rested, see exactly what my debauchery had wrought.
Well, other than the blindness, hallucinations, swollen sinuses, tremors and facial tics. (They seemed a small price to pay for art, as I figured Kerouac was a pretty jittery guy after Road, too.)
I know I liked his title better than mine: Suicide from a First Story Window (a novel—ostensibly—about an old alkie and his two sons). So when I was ready I gathered the pages together (over two hundred of them), tried to arrange them in some kind of order, only to find I’d stopped affixing page numbers early on.
This (like the first hits of that Hawaiian years later) was the first sign that something was terribly wrong. I’d planned on staying sober as I read but slid the last half case of Luckies over instead; drew one out, worked it down while puffing a joint.
Only when I was suitably primed did I reach into the pile, begin selecting random pages.
There’s an old saw that claims you can put a hundred monkeys on typewriters and, if you leave them there long enough, they’ll write Shakespeare, while I couldn’t even do Kerouac. The screed I’d produced bordered on madness: seems the “blackout me” was a crazed, incoherent blatherer.
An hour later I was burning the book in a barrel out back. I was devastated, of course, but that was nothing new, as everything I’d tried as a writer had failed to that point. (And would for another thirty years!)
So like the pot growing … what kept me going? I’m as puzzled by that as I am the real point of the story, i.e. the fact I could never snort coke again. Oh, I liked it as much as ever (maybe more) and tried to use it off and on for another fifteen years, but one hit and my sinuses would snap shut, leave me with a stuffed head for days.
I’d vow to quit but it was the Seventies and Eighties, when everyone I knew was doing blow, and wasn’t it enough that I couldn’t drink anymore!?
I’d finally convince myself it’s what the last batch was cut with, or it was inferior coke to begin with, or even (always the hardest sell for an old alkie) that time had healed my sinuses.
Uh-huh. I once went five years between snorts and it didn’t change a thing, my body was gonna save me from myself whether I liked it or not.
I had the will but not the way, in other words, and I wish I could have lent my dead buddies some of that.