S.M. Park

Risen Apes: Funny Papers

S.M. Park’s column Risen Apes about being a 70-year-old boomer. In “Funny Papers,” Park talks about new drug experiences, doctor visits, and cartooning.


The idea that, at seventy-four, I’m not only alive but still searching for new drug experiences heartens me. In that vein I tried some “Kratom” last night, a powder made from the leaves of a Southeast Asian tree. It’s known as an “herbal speedball” and purported to have mood-lifting, energetic, even aphrodisiacal effects.

So I ordered a packet online and mixed the recommended dose (a teaspoon) into a cup of hot water. The result, unfortunately, was more glow than buzz, a short-lived, mild euphoria that barely made the taste and consistency of the tea (like riverbank mud) worth it.

Now doubling, even tripling the amount might prove interesting, but that was a job for my younger self: at this age I’m mostly just curious, need to be sure I’m not missing something.

It’s helpful to expand my palate in any case, as (with my old alkie buddies aging) I do a reasonable amount of drug and alcohol counseling. I heard from a friend in Portland last week, in fact, telling me he was finally ready to quit the sauce. This was quite an admission on his part, as there’ve been few (if any) days in the last half-century when he didn’t drink. (Rather well, I might add, given that he’s been married forty years and never been in jail or rehab.)

But it catches up to all of us and, even though he’s down to a six-pack of beer a night, he gets jittery and irritable (even hallucinates) waiting for five p.m. to arrive.

He asked for my thoughts on the matter and—instead of what I really felt (that he should lock himself in a room somewhere, go through the d.t.’s cold turkey, be “scared straight,” in effect)—I offered the standard fare, that he needs to have doctors and downers around when he withdraws and, once sober, has to take things one day at a time.

But that didn’t mean he shouldn’t own—even celebrate—his fifty years of boozing:

“I’m proud of you, old buddy,” I said, “you had a hell of a run. Sure it was as a drunk, and you probably can’t remember half of it, but hey! fuck the Puritan Stain! You had a successful career and marriage, didn’t have kids and your friends still speak to you. That’s a life well lived, man!”

There was a long pause on the other end, then a snort of laughter.

“The worst part, High,” he said finally, “is you’re not being sarcastic.”


My local doctor retired last year and I met with my new one yesterday. After her nurse had taken my measurements and blood pressure she sauntered in, introduced herself, settled down behind her computer.

“Now, Wilson,” she said, “I’ve been looking over your medical history and it’s pretty colorful. I don’t know where to begin.”

“Try ‘essential tremor,’” I said, holding out my hands. “It began a few years ago and it’s getting worse.”

“Oh, I’m sorry to hear that,” she said, “especially—as it says here—with you being a cartoonist and all. It must make drawing difficult.”

“Screw that: try rolling a joint.”


The idea that, at seventy-four, I’m not only alive but still searching for new drug experiences heartens me.


She looked to be in her mid-forties (and had certainly had her fill of old boomers before I showed up), but I meant what I said: after fifty years and tens of thousands of reefers I spray pot everywhere now when I roll.

I finally drove to a local head shop and bought a machine. I’d rolled up a pound the last time I used one (so there was plenty of muscle memory to draw on) and was just glad to have a remedy available.

There’s no such aid for my eyes. As my ophthalmologist told me recently:

“The good news is that you won’t get macular degeneration. The bad is you’ve got pretty much everything else.”

I used to flinch at news like that but me twitching and squinting at this age? That’s not bad luck … it’s justice.


There’s a couple hundred cartoons on the walls of this studio, and displaying my work like that is new to me. (In the past I rarely kept any record of it at all.)

Then in 2018 I started taping copies of my blog illustrations, cards for friends and family, dog portraits and commercial work to the walls. It was a lark mostly, a chance to see how much art I produce at this age (way more than I thought), and it’s had unintended consequences.

One is the cartoon showcase that’s resulted. I don’t know if it’s the influence of the Internet or simple happenstance, but lately I’ve met a number of parents who boast a young cartoonist in the family.

So I encourage them to bring the kid to my studio. When I was a boy I longed to meet someone who did what I did; can only speculate what it might have meant to me.

I remember, for instance, a visit to a family friend in Laguna Beach, California when I was six years old. He was a commercial artist who had a watercolor of a Kilpatrick’s Bread wrapper on his desk (a blue and white checkered pattern) that might as well have been the Mona Lisa to me. My dad had to drag me away from it twice and later, while the other kids were playing outside, I stole back to moon over it again. It was one of the most stirring moments of my childhood, the instant when I was that close to another artist.

Because I felt like the lone stranger where I came from. I loved my brothers and parents, and being raised in their Jock World challenged my introversion in ways that benefited me later, but they were a total vacuum artistically. As were my friends, for that matter, and my mentors and teachers, too.

Which was okay, art’s a personal thing, anyway, but the adolescent me? He’d have killed for a glimpse of a studio like mine.


Also on The Big Smoke


So I’m as encouraging as possible to kids who come around. Give them the How-to-Cartoon books I keep for that purpose, along with pens and tablets and whatever they’ve asked me to draw. Their parents are grateful, of course, but I assure them the pleasure is all mine, that there’s nothing like someone (regardless of age) treating your work like magic.

Which leads, inversely, to the other consequence of exhibiting my work this way, how most of the friends who visit ignore it. I don’t particularly care (and hardly need kudos), but their lack of curiosity puzzles me, the way they’re careful to look anywhere but the walls around them.

Then I remember most of them are obsessive-compulsives, too, and that’s why their attention is focused on the smoke detector overhead. I’ve left it open since I moved here (with the instructions and cobwebs dangling from it) to test their need for order. They pretend not to look at it, even talk faster to distract themselves, but in the end it’s no use: they have to jump up, try to snatch those instructions from the air.

Fortunately they’re short, too, so they never quite make it.

You get your kicks where you can in retirement.


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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