S.M. Park

Risen Apes: All In

S.M. Park’s column Risen Apes about being a 70-year-old boomer. In “All In,” Park and his high school buddies get together for their annual poker event, plus a story about the Dead.

 

I got together with eleven old friends from high school last October. We rented two houses in Sun River, Boregon for four days, continuing a tradition that’s stretched over thirty-five years.

We’ve skipped the occasional year in the interim, but for the most part it’s been an annual event. That’s pretty remarkable for a bunch of guys who met in high school, and when I suss out our bond it always comes back to poker.

I’ve written before how my father filled our Christmas stockings with dice, roulette wheels, decks of cards and chips as kids, even taught my brothers and I poker as soon as we could talk. (He loved gambling and was determined we would, too, and damned if he didn’t succeed.)

This was an upbringing unique among our peers, however (at least in the Fifties Bay Area), so until we moved to Portland in 1962 my brothers and I were left to play against each other.

Then on my first day at McKinley High, after I’d assured everyone I met that I was (kind of) a basketball player, some kid who barely came to my waist said, “Fuck that, beanpole! Do you play poker?”

I’d liked my chances at McKinley the moment I got there, and now they were getting better!?

“Well, yes,” I said. “I do.”

Did all the rain in Boregon make its young men (unable to go outside) into card sharks? It sure seemed like it: I played in my first game at McKinley a week later and rarely missed a day thereafter until I graduated, groups of us gathering in whatever kid’s basement was available whenever we had time.

We gambled for the money we made on our part-time jobs and that (at least from a savings standpoint) was too much of a good thing for me, as I’m sure I lost more than I won over the next three years. What mattered is we came from a class of seven hundred and might never have met otherwise (much less become such close friends), because if you want to know what some guy’s really like … play thousands of hands of poker with him.

So when I returned to Portland after a twenty-year absence in 1987, on the eve of my fortieth birthday, it was only natural that a group of us would get together to celebrate. There’s been dropouts and additions since but surprisingly (given that we’re all seventy-five now) not a single death. (Even as the most beautiful, popular girls in our class, all of whom were—unlike us—non-smokers and drinkers and steered clear of drugs, are gone.)

For this year’s event I drove four hours south to my friend Karl Franklin’s place in Beaverton (a city adjoining Portland), so we could head to Sun River together the next day. He lives in a sprawling, four-bedroom house in a neighborhood dotted with McMansions, so I thought nothing of leaving my 2003 Honda Accord in his driveway.

Then I’m sitting at the kitchen table with his wife Carrie the next morning when a neighbor knocks at the door.

“Better check it out,” he told her when she answered. “Looks like thieves broke into your friend’s car.”

I stepped outside, saw all the Accord’s doors were open and the trunk raised, while both the seats and driveway were strewn with its contents (registration and insurance papers, receipts, maps, pens, bottles of water, paperbacks, notebooks, ice scrapers, jackets, etc.).

My first thought is I was glad I had my COVID vax card on me. The second is how catalytic converters were being stolen with increasing regularity in Portland, so I slipped behind the wheel, started the engine, was relieved to find it didn’t sound like a tank. I began segregating the piles of papers beside me before stepping into the driveway to retrieve the items there.

Someone had called a cop and when he pulled up out front he asked me what had been stolen.

I bent over, picked up six copies of my memoirs from the gutter.

“It’s what wasn’t taken, Officer,” I said.

“Yeah?”

“These are autographed copies of my memoirs,” I said, waving them over my head, “and they didn’t take a damn one of them! What’s up with that?”

To his credit he snickered (I was probably his tenth car theft that morning), and after further inspection I admitted the thieves weren’t total losers, that they’d at least stolen a 49ers face mask.

Karl and Carrie were embarrassed by the incident, of course, but there’s no place to hide from the crime and homelessness in Portland anymore, and—if it weren’t my least favorite city to begin with—it might have saddened me.

Instead we left the Honda in Karl’s garage while he drove us to Sun River (in the center of the state). It’s a place where a number of well-heeled Boregonians have second homes so it was fitting that most of our group are wealthy, too. (Self-made every one of them and a real boon for me, as I’m still the hyena in the gang, living off the scraps.) Though the lucre thing gets pretty tedious.

 

I was pulled aside early by Ted Feder, a longtime banker and friend. His ex-girlfriend Jennie had died in a fall down stairs the month before and, he assured me, it was probably for the best.

 

I was pulled aside early by Ted Feder, a longtime banker and friend. His ex-girlfriend Jennie had died in a fall down stairs the month before and, he assured me, it was probably for the best.

“How’s that?” I said.

“Well,” he confided, “she barely had a million-and-a-half left.”

I laughed because he didn’t, because I knew he’d heard me earlier when I said the bathrooms in those rental homes were bigger than the house I lived in. (And if you’re a guy who keeps score with money, isn’t flaunting it the point?)

Along with getting shit-faced on the best wines and scotches. I’ve been the sober one in the room for the last forty-five years and it’s actually getting easier, as unless they’re slurring their words or falling down … I no longer realize people are drunk. (My boozer past feels like somebody else’s now.)

Though I’d be drunker than the lot of ’em if I could. Big Ed, an old high school teammate who lives in Mexico half the year, can’t drink either now because of pancreatitis.

I was quick to congratulate him.

“For what?” he scoffed.

“An imperative, man,” I said. “Like me you can’t booze anymore, alcohol’s the same as Drano to you. So after being shit-faced for fifty years you’re able to stop just like that! Without a smidgen of discipline or convincing. What a gift that is! How’d you like to be some poor AA schmuck, having to work on your sobriety every day?”

He shivered; like me, Big Ed isn’t partial to work.

“Guess you’re right,” he said, and reached for the joint of Gorilla Girl.

I’ll say one thing: I was reassured when, before our first meal, we toasted the fallen Jennie. I’ve been concerned about my essential tremor for years (given its deleterious effect on my cartooning), but when the other guys raised their glasses (sloshing anyone nearby with the contents) they were worse Shaky Jakes than I was.

Half of them played golf during our stay while Karl went off to fly fish; the rest of us took walks and caught up on the last couple years (COVID having suspended the previous event). This is the part I enjoy (unlike the poker itself, where—after decades of looking the same players in the eyes—you know what they’re going to do before they do), because whatever’s gone on in their lives they’ve had a far different ride than mine.

The downside of which is how wrung out the introvert in me is later: after returning to Port Townsend I slept twenty-four of the next thirty-six hours. (I’m showing up mid-week next time.)

* * *

I heard from my old buddy Rick Silverdale yesterday. He and his wife were somewhere in Colorado, following the Grateful Dead on their latest U.S. tour.

At seventy years old no less. I was surprised when he told me about it last Spring (I thought the Dead were dead), particularly because he has a pacemaker now.

So when he called that’s the first thing I asked him:

“Well, buddy, you had that pacemaker installed, which means you can’t drink or do drugs without inducing A Fib, so the first time you heard the Dead straight did you think: Oh shit! I wasted my life on these guys!?

“Fuck you, Wilson,” he said, “I know you don’t like the Dead.”

“I sure loved the Owsley acid.”

“Uh huh. Which is where you’re wrong about the A Fib thing. I can’t smoke, drink or do edibles anymore … but I can still take LSD.”

With a pacemaker? Really? If I were around I couldn’t resist; I’d have to pause whenever he was nearby, ask: “Hey! What’s that ticking sound?”

 


Also on The Big Smoke


 

But Silverdale and the Dead? They go way back. (He even followed them to Egypt in ’78.) A couple years before that, when he, Moochie O’Leary and I were in Olympia, Washington at the same time, he picked us up at another friend’s house after a night of revelry (particularly on Moochie’s part).

He was driving a Volkswagen van, of course, and after we’d laid the barely conscious, badly hungover O’Leary in the back he shut the door and turned to me.

“Goddamit, High,” he said, “why do you hang out with that loser!?”

“Hey, hey! Hold it down!” I said. “That’s my sidekick you’re talking about.”

“Yeah? Tell me one positive thing about the guy.”

“Wellll … he’s a good man for trouble.”

“That’s because he’s always in it!”

I shook my head, drew a joint from my pocket and lit it. Had just passed it to Silverdale when there was a muffled sound in the van:

“Heeeeyuck! Heeeeyuck!”

“What the hell was that?” said Rick.

I’d been around Moochie long enough to know exactly what it was.

“What do you mean?” I said. “I didn’t hear anything.”

“Heeeeyuck! Heeeeyuck!” (Much louder this time.)

“Goddamit!” gasped Rick. “That sounds like puking!”

He flung open the door and sure enough there was O’Leary, hunched above a large plastic bin where Rick kept the hundreds of Dead shows he’d recorded over the years.

All of them bobbing in Moochie’s bile now. He finished up with a dry heave, sat back on his heels and wiped his chin.

“It’s cool,” he said. “It’s only Dead tapes.”

 

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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