S.M. Park

Risen Apes: Pot of Gold

S.M. Park’s column Risen Apes about being a 70-year-old boomer. In “Pot of Gold,” Park talks about frugality, storytelling in public, and Greyhound buses.

 

I was forty before I had a thousand bucks in the bank and sixty-five before I owned a washer and dryer. Not a well-heeled life, obviously, but I still kick myself when (like yesterday) I had to cancel a Lake Tahoe reunion with friends because I couldn’t afford it.

$250 a night for a room at a lush lakeside resort, when I could buy a mutt at the shelter for that kinda money? No way.

This fiscal resolve surprised me at first. Then I remembered it was only an illusion, the feint I’ve been using since turning seventy, this notion that desperation will force the prudent me into the light.

As if he actually exists; my younger self knew he didn’t, which is why—halfway through my quarter century of pot growing in Portland—I posted an 8 x 11 inch sign on the wall next to my head:

 

YOU’LL ALWAYS BE
CIRCLING THE DRAIN.

 

Friends and customers took it for a Bukowski quote, or maybe the reason a guy with my “potential” had ended up a drug dealer, but it reminded me that I’ll never be flush for long and needed to get right with it. (You can’t choose today over tomorrow every day of your life, then wonder—when the latter finally comes—why the stash box is empty. That’s preposterous.)

So I went out and walked the local trails for a couple hours, trying to convince myself that five hundred in the bank meant more than seeing the guys I grew up with one last time, but it was theater really, a way to tell myself I’d tried.

Because I booked two nights in Tahoe the moment I got home, only to have the ferocious Caldor Fire decide the matter for me.

* * *

In the meanwhile I did a local “Story Slam” last week, standing up to tell how—after detailing my “psychedelic wino” status on an application to Evergreen State in 1971 (Ex: I eat psychedelics like breath mints but you shouldn’t be alarmed, as they keep me awake and make my cigarettes taste better)—the college sent me a letter, said they couldn’t admit me because there were no mental health facilities on campus.

Whaaat!!?? I was outraged; wrote back demanding a sanity hearing and, Evergreen being Evergreen (always give a weirdo a fair shake and all that), they agreed!

The story got some laughs but I had two mental occlusions in the process, moments when I lost my train of thought and blanked out. This had never happened to me before (on stage or off) and I was understandably concerned, wondered if dementia had finally tracked me down.

 

 

It wasn’t until later that night, when I lay in bed staring at the ceiling, that the real culprit revealed itself, i.e. I’d been straight! I’ve eaten thousands of edibles since 1985 and have done them every day for the last four years; like ’shrooms I find them particularly useful for speaking engagements (high school reunions, book readings, standup comedy, etc.), a way to sharpen the edge, get the juices flowing.

Unfortunately the parallel tracks required (cracking wise while pretending you’re sober) demand such fierce concentration that I barely remember the events afterwards (particularly as I age). So I vowed it’d be different this time, that not only would I skip the edible, but I wouldn’t smoke dope, either.

How is it, all these years later, that I still think anything’s better straight? Plus it shouldn’t have been a big deal to begin with, right? We’re not talking coke, booze or crack here, just a little THC.

Except it’s my serotonin substitute now, so I won’t make that mistake again. I know I enjoyed telling that Evergreen State story, as it’s one of the events I hang my hat on, proof of a life well-lived. (If a specter had come to me as a teen, told me I’d have to pass a sanity test to be admitted to college … well, I’d have been one excited kid.)

That was the me I wanted to be (whether I knew it yet or not).

* * *

I got a call from my buddy Jake in Portland on Monday, telling me he’d bought a new car and wanted to give me his old one, a 2003 Honda Accord LX. I can’t say I’ve coveted it (it’s a car, after all), but it’s one of the few vehicles I’ve seen that prompted a second look from me, with its slick styling, plum color and gray leather seats. It was three years newer than the Accord I had, with a similar 175,000 miles on it, so I thanked Jake profusely, told him I’d find a ride to Portland soon to pick it up.

Meaning sometime in the next few months from my perspective, and only then if the opportunity presented itself. Instead Jake calls the next morning, says he’s changed the oil, bought some insurance that’ll cover us both so when am I coming down?

He’s a fastidious character and this is a loose end for him, so I started researching transportation to Portland. Given my reluctance to fly (too many hassles) this left a train or bus as options.

I leaned toward the Greyhound at first. They have a special place in my heart, as I rode them often in the Sixties and Seventies; most of my peers considered them a step down from hitchhiking but I was partial to the “Big Blue” experience. (I was also a 6’6”, 260-pound, glassy-eyed hippie with only a typer for luggage, so hitching had become problematic over the years.)

 


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It was the starkness of the Greyhound experience that appealed to me. You think you’re down, you think you’re alone, you think you’re a loser? Well, hop aboard, pal, you’ve come to the right place. The single mothers with kids (fleeing home to Mom and Dad), the desperate junkies and drifters and AWOL soldiers, even the twisted farm boys strangling cats in their sleep.

But they were just the chorus: the sweet spot lay in the back of the bus, next to the chemical toilet. That’s where the drunks gathered ’round, smoking hand-rolls and drinking wine (cheap rotgut like Mad Dog or Ripple). I was perennially broke, too, or I wouldn’t have been on a bus, but I usually had enough for a couple pints of bourbon. I’d keep one for myself, give the other to the latest group of rummies when I sat down, get their engines revved with the wine/whiskey combo.

Laughs were hard won on a Greyhound and you had to be careful even then, as there were other passengers on board and the drivers were happy to toss us if they caught us drinking. (I was booted twice—both times in blackouts—with plenty of bruises to show for it.)

The drivers were part of our favorite game, in fact, what we called “The Chug.” We’d position a guy as close to the front as possible, have him watch the driver’s eyes in the mirror. He knew we were drinking and we knew he was trying to catch us (he’d look away, snap back, lower his cap brim, etc.), so the secret was to steal a slug when he wasn’t looking. This was hardest on the straightaways, better on the turns, when he had to keep his eyes on the road.

When the coast was clear the character in front would tip his bottle back, signaling the rest of us to follow suit.

Gee, Uncle Wilson, what’d you do on your college vacations?

Well, nephew, I was quite the Greyhound chugger in my day.

I took the train.

 

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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