S.M. Park

Risen Apes: A Fool Such As I

S.M. Park’s column Risen Apes about being a 70-year-old boomer. In “A Fool Such As I,” Park talks about one of his most memorable trips to Europe.

 

I’ve become such a hermit in my old age that the pandemic passed with little notice on my part. I’m so comfortable being alone, in fact, that most days the only people I see or speak to are those I pass on walks. (And only then to give treats to their dogs.)

And that’s great: I consider my eight years here the best of my life for precisely that reason. (I lived by myself for a quarter-century in Portland, but no one growing pot is alone for long.) I would have made a decent monk, or even a prisoner in solitary, except there’s an extrovert in me somewhere, the same Irish bullshitter who thinks the best part of writing is doing the readings later.

He has to be coaxed into the light, however; drugs and alcohol (much less the friends who abused them) took care of that in the past, but now it’s up to me. So when my friend Seth (another character I met on my walks, along with his wife and dog) prodded me to join a group he meets with on Saturday mornings I finally acquiesced. They gather at a local restaurant under the auspices of a faux “religion” they formed (a Church of Irreverents) to swap yarns over breakfast.

Yesterday we were reminiscing about our strangest experiences in Europe. That was a hard one for me (as I had nothing but weird times in France, including being dragged from a cathedral by gendarmes for refusing to remove my hat), but finally settled on my trip to Denmark in the Spring of 1991.

My farmer brother Ben married a Dane named Ella in the Seventies (certainly the best thing that ever happened to him, much less our family in general) and I became friendly with her father and brother when they visited the States.

So when I made my first trip to Holland in ’91 I added Denmark to the itinerary. (Back then—before falling under Amsterdam’s spell—I’d planned on seeing all of Europe.)

The first thing I realized is I should have paid more attention in Geography class. I boarded the train to Copenhagen in mid-afternoon (after polishing off a bag of hash bonbons), woke to the rocking of waves the next morning.

This was troublesome, as I’d boarded a train the day before, not a boat. I sat up, looked out the window and sure enough … there was nothing but water out there. Laid back and wondered if my drug occlusions had finally caught up with me, if I’d been shanghaied somehow.

Nah, I thought, I’m not worth the trouble. I slipped out of the berth and into the hallway. Asked a passing Frenchman (of course) what was going on.

“Eh, we’re on the barge to Denmark,” he said. “Across the Danish Straits.”

I just stared at him.

“You know,” he smirked. “The North Sea, because Denmark is an island?

“Oh yeah,” I laughed. “Riiight.”

I had a suitcase full of those bonbons, swore to eat half as many next time. Spent a day wandering around Copenhagen later (as tasteful and stylish a city as I’d ever seen), then hopped another train to Aalborg (in the center of the country) where Andrus, Ella’s father, picked me up at the station.

I’d be staying at his place the next few days. He was a retired farmer who, at seventy, had the vigor of a teenager. He’d wake me at five every morning, drag me outside (in thirty-degree weather) to share a breakfast of granola, lunch meats and cheese with him; then pile us into his Volvo, drive from one end of Northern Denmark to the other. (It was obviously where the Vikings hailed from, as they were much stouter than their southern counterparts.)

 

I should have paid more attention in Geography class. I boarded the train to Copenhagen in mid-afternoon (after polishing off a bag of hash bonbons), woke to the rocking of waves the next morning. … This was troublesome, as I’d boarded a train the day before, not a boat.

 

Andrus was a gracious host, but the disparity in our ages and his broken English meant I was glad when he dropped me at his son’s place on Saturday. His name was Erik and he was a thirty-year-old accountant who lived with his fiancé Bridget in the suburbs.

We drove to a festival in Aalborg later that morning. “Big annual rock concert,” he told me. “It’s in the park and there’ll be thousands of people there.”

“Really?” I said. Damn. That called for more juice than those hash bonbons.

Then I remembered my emergency stash: the hit of Window Pane acid I’d carried around (transferring it from wallet to wallet) for years, waiting for the perfect opportunity.

It wouldn’t get any weirder than a Danish rock concert. I pulled out my ratty billfold, turned it inside out and there, to my relief, was the tiny glassine envelope with the Window Pane in it.

The last time I’d taken a psychedelic (well, other than magic mushrooms, and those were mostly “maintenance” doses) was nine years before, when I was thirty-five. It was a hit of the very same Window Pane and I spent the trip in a Lake Tahoe forest, saying good-bye to hallucinogens. There was little sadness or ceremony involved (we’d had a great run), but the rushes had a tired, rerun quality to them now and really … what’s more jaded than a psychedelic burnout?

I should have eaten them less on jobs, I suppose. (Plus I overdid everything, so why would mind benders be any different.) I hadn’t missed them much but had never been to a rock concert straight either, so went back and forth about whether to take the Window Pane.

 Then we reached Aalborg, sat down to an outdoor lunch as hot Nordic beauties streamed by, and as stunning as they were I figured they (like their country) would look even better on acid. I slipped the hit under my tongue, settled in for a pleasant repast with Erik and Bridget.

When we’d finished they sat back, ordered a couple of beers. They were across the table from me, and I was telling them a story about brother Ben as a kid, when bam! the first rush of Window Pane hit.

Jesus! I thought with a start. I’m outta practice here.

Erik frowned and bent forward.

“Are you all right, Wilson?” he asked. “You just got the strangest look on your face.”

“Oh, it’s nothing,” I said. “Just the acid coming on.”

They glanced at each other (either uncomprehending or—more likely—hoping they were).

“Acid?” said Bridget.

“Yeah, you know: LSD? I would have offered you guys some, but I only had the one hit.”

Their mouths dropped open as they set their beers down.

“You … took LSD?” gasped Erik.

“Sure.”

And just like that they leapt up, spun around and ran off. Seriously. I remember it like it was yesterday and couldn’t, for the life of me, figure it out; waited another fifteen minutes before admitting they weren’t coming back, that they’d left me stoned and stranded in a foreign city.

Where (unlike in Amsterdam) few of the Danes I’d encountered spoke English. This wasn’t good, but maybe I’d run into my brother-in-law later, when he got the stick out of his ass. I rose to my feet, slipped into the mob headed towards the festival; was trying to be as inconspicuous as possible except I was a half-head taller than everyone else and—even from that perch—couldn’t spot another foreigner in the crowd.

It was a sea of bobbing blondes, like I’d dropped into a Troy Donahue convention. Plus every once in a while someone would look in my direction, yell: “Hey, Clint! Clint Eastwood!”

 

It was a sea of bobbing blondes, like I’d dropped into a Troy Donahue convention. Plus every once in a while someone would look in my direction, yell: “Hey, Clint! Clint Eastwood!”

 

When I realized they were speaking to me (riffing off my cowboy hat and long oilskin coat) I knew I was fucked, that rather than disappearing into a mob of blissfully stoned concert goers I’m probably the only guy here on psychedelics! How was that possible in 1991, what was it with these Scandinavians? (They seemed to like beer well enough, but there was no pot smoke in the air either.)

When we reached the park I plopped down on the first available bench, tried to adjust to the stone. This early discomfort was nothing new, of course (all the best highs began as face-melters), so over the years I’d perfected an out-of-body, “Frozen Man” valence for them.

He was equally useful in the d.t.’s, of course, a zombie to lean on while my brain righted itself. It took twenty minutes and a joint behind the chemical toilets (I carried pre-rolleds in a pack of Pall Malls) before I was ready to head for the concert.

It was set in a wide, grassy amphitheater and I guessed there were three or four thousand Danes there, many of them young, comely and female.

That was the good news; the bad was the music itself. It consisted of six separate stages (in a half-moon around the bowl), all of them featuring greasy Elvis impersonators.

This is what the Apocalypse will look like, I thought. (And I’d been worried about cheesy Abba knockoffs.) I wandered into the crowd, was surprised to find that—instead of rushing the stages and demanding real entertainment—the Danes were singing along.

I stopped to stare a couple times and immediately caught elbows in the back. Suddenly remembered what my buddy Sean in Amsterdam had told me, that for Northern Europeans crowds are like roller derby.

I thought of pushing back but was still edgy on the Window Pane, so retreated to the edge of the concert instead. Walked back up the bowl, turned at the top to make a cursory search for my brother-in-law; couldn’t spot him anywhere and decided it was just as well, that what I really needed was a joint.

That would require privacy, so I began a long, leisurely stroll through the park. It was resplendent with tulips and flowering trees and when I was safely alone I took out the pack of Pall Malls; shook some options onto my palm before selecting a thick Green Genie joint. Had barely lit it when the path veered to the right and there, lounging on a grassy knoll beside me, was a group of Danish derelicts.

A wannabe bikers gang wearing caps, leather vests, Levi’s and boots. Except instead of motorcycles they pushed their belongings around in baby carriages.

Now this is more like it, I thought, these are the guys I’ve been looking for. (In Denmark only the truly hapless were homeless.)

There was a half dozen of them, lounging in the grass and passing a bottle of schnapps back and forth. I strolled up, offered them the joint and they seemed eager to smoke American weed. Hacked their lungs out afterwards because as Benny (their de facto leader and the one who spoke the best English) explained, they were used to European joints (pot or hash mixed with tobacco).

“Oh, fuck that ragweed,” I said. “You’re smoking Green Genie now, one of my personal hybrids.”

Then I opened my fanny pack and gave them each three bonbons, too. (I think I told them there was hash in them.) “It’s time for you Danish boys to get ripped!

(None of them looked long for the world, but I like to think that, in the years to come, they’d circle the baby carriages, reminisce about the day Clint Eastwood got ’em high.)

Because if Green Genie was the primer a Thirteenth Floor bomber sealed the deal. We were having a grand old time, gesturing and laughing and carrying on (as if we actually understood one other), when the bonbons kicked in.

I presumed (judging by the two guys puking and the others looking like they would) that they weren’t a good mix with the schnapps.

Well, that’s my exit line, I thought, and had barely started to rise when Benny jumped up, clipped me in the mouth with a haymaker. (Maybe I hadn’t warned them about the hash after all.)

Fortunately I was clutching my leather backpack at the time (it looked, appropriately enough, like a saddlebag), and cracked him upside the head with it. It was full of journals and books so he went down hard; began retching in the grass.

With the gang’s attention on him I jumped up, hustled back the way I’d come (listening—all the while—for the squeak of baby carriages behind me). By the time I reached the park entrance the sun was setting and so, finally, was the Window Pane. I’d never been punched on acid before (which said something for the day), but I’d forgotten that psychedelics go on forever when you’re old.

 


Also on The Big Smoke


 

I had bigger concerns at the moment, though, like where the hell Andrus lived; all I knew for sure is it was too far for a taxi. As if I’d even seen one in Aalborg.

I stepped into an alleyway, smoked some more reefer, finally headed in the direction of the main road. Figured I could hitchhike and, failing that, find a place to crash. Was walking past a department store when a blue Volvo screeched to the curb beside me.

I looked over: saw Andrus behind the wheel, beckoning me inside.

Like we’d arranged all this beforehand. I slipped onto the passenger seat, asked him what he was doing there and how he’d found me.

He, in turn, checked out my dilated pupils and fat lip, flared his nostrils at the pot stench.

“Vell, you’re tall and Erik told me he ditched you because you’re a drug fiend,” he said (as if that explained everything).

We drove home in silence. When we arrived I stepped out, thanked him profusely, stumbled to the guest room. Took off my boots and coat and flopped onto the bed; was just nodding off when I heard footsteps in the hallway.

I opened my eyes, saw Andrus at the door.

“You think you’re crazy maybe?” he asked.

“Yeah,” I said. “Maybe.”

 

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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