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Risen Apes: Slide Show

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Risen Apes: Slide Show

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S.M. Park’s column Risen Apes about being a 70-year-old boomer. In “Slide Show,” Park shares the vignettes that flutter through his mind’s eye, flash points from his life.

I call them “snapshots,” those one-second Polaroids of friends or acquaintances that blink in and out of your consciousness, the little moments that make life worth living.

There’s the pinched scowl of Dr. Livingston, for instance, my childhood dentist, a mean bastard who liked to withhold the Novocaine, then work you hard with the drill. (I had some accidental revenge later, dry humping his teenage daughter with my fly open.)

Or being confronted by Carl Belinski, a fearsome bruiser and the class bully, after our eighth-grade graduation. We’d never gotten along and were headed to different high schools so this was his last chance to slap me around.

Instead he stuck his finger in my chest, said he really admired me, that I was a guy “… who didn’t give a shit about anything.” (I was stunned: when I could speak I started to thank him, realized that’d pop his bubble and snickered instead.)

My sole high school athlete perk, when Mr. Gomez, the basketball coach who doubled as my Spanish teacher, handed me a mimeographed test in class, then leaned over and whispered: “Don’t worry, Wilson … the answers are on the back.”

The stark beauty of Kathy, my teenage girlfriend, lying naked on the front seat of my Ford. We’re at the Drive-In and I have my mouth on her breast and a finger inside her when she looks up and says: “What if my mother could see me now?”

That one still has a nail in it. As does the long, hangdog expression of Dr. Anderson, my McKinley High School mentor, when I asked him what he thought of my future prospects:

Bud Delfman, an early purveyor of psychedelics in the Bay Area, putting an exclamation point on that two years later. “It’s a Green Machine from Portland,” he said, handing me a tab of acid. “It’ll rip you a new one.”

Me and six other guys. (I took mind benders hundreds of times over the years but that was my sole freakout.) I ended up in a cottage with six Bay Area friends and—after forgetting how to breathe—developed an ear ache in my right ear. Real or imagined the pain was driving me mad so Mac, a Navy Medic home on leave, produced a vial of Novocaine.

He and Ned Gumbo bent me face down over a couch, decided that since I was on LSD the pain would be magnified a hundred times so the dose should, too, i.e. they poured the whole vial in my ear.

It left me drooling and unable to speak, turned the right side of my head into concrete. I wrote a note pleading for a ride to the Emergency Room but my “buddies” took me to see Valley of the Dolls instead (a movie about people killing themselves with pills).

Those Bay Area characters figure prominently in my mental album, of course, and it’s surprising how often one of them—Tommy Vallani—comes to mind. He was my grade school partner in crime (it was his idea, for instance, to spread Limburger cheese on car seats on hot summer days). I hadn’t seen him in years when he showed up at my wino hotel room in ’67, saw me lying on the floor amidst dozens of empty whiskey bottles (Ernie’s Black Label, a buck twenty-five a quart), and declared me “the world’s biggest loser.”

He was dead of a heroin overdose a week later. Or Nick the Nihilist (gone now from cocaine) staring up at me from the bathtub in that same hotel room. He was trying (unsuccessfully) to drown his dose of crabs, and having eliminated mine with a Kwell prescription I offer the bottle to him. He glanced at it, shook his head. “No thanks,” he said.

All the vignettes that arrive unbidden, apropos of nothing. Like Joey Grins, a San Bruno kid who had a different car every time we met. One day, as we stood next to his latest, a yellow XKE, I asked him if the rumor I’d heard was true, that he stole cars for a living. He scoffed. “Fuck you, High!” he said, then opened the trunk and put the bottles of wine we’d bought inside. Except he had to move the license plates out of the way first … there must have been fifty of them in there.

Frozen in time, too, is the sleek, patrician mug of an old woman in New York City. It’s the Summer of Love and my buddies and I are on Owsley acid in the Central Park wine garden. We’ve been hitting the Sangria hard and suddenly the fearsome Paul Masgrave jumps up, steps to the table beside us and sinks his teeth into the wax apples on the woman’s hat.

He’s growling and shaking his head like a dog with a bone and—without missing a beat and barely moving her lips—she glances at me and says: “Don’t tell me … you’re California boys.”

Standing at a bus stop in the northern corner of that same State later, noting Crazy Ray’s glee when he tells me why he’s called “The Vet”: “I threw a dead dog in the frat house furnace.”

Drugs took him out, too, a fate I wished for Mark Vinnie in the Fall of ’72. He’d gone to a Rod Stewart concert in Seattle with my buddy Moochie and me. We were standing there (pretending to sing along with “Maggie May” but really just working the mescaline rushes) when I felt a warm, wet sensation in my open-topped boots.

It was just the left one at first so I ignored it (there were, after all, plenty of somatics happening). But when it moved to the other side I looked down, saw Vinnie on his hands and knees, puking into my boots.

Seriously: he’d filled the left one and was finishing off the right. When he was done he sat back, wiped his mouth on his sleeve, rose shakily to his feet. Leaned close so I could hear him over the din. “Thanks, man,” he said.

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The expression on Jake Miltown’s face when, after he told me he’d found a mental ward in Berkeley that’d admit my psychotic ass, I leaned forward in a vomit and frosting smeared overcoat—a bloody butcher knife in one gloved hand and a can of Olde English 800 in the other—and asked him if he thought I was “crazy enough.”

Or Mama Roux wakening in her small Portland apartment, sometime in the early Seventies. I’d been hitchhiking through and stayed overnight and now, as the first bit of dawn streamed through the window, she saw me sitting at the kitchen table in my underwear.

“High,” she muttered, “what’s that you’re drinking?”

“It’s called a Brown Cow,” I said, stifling a belch. “A wine you mix with milk so it tastes like chocolate.”

She thought about that for a second, rolled over.

“Don’t tell me,” she said, “it’s a screw top.”

Danny Velman (aka “The Devo Factor”), after we’d both overdosed on peyote buds, telling me he’d finally discovered the meaning of life: “It’s in the wrists,” he said.

Or Nearly Normal Jimmy, after we’d each eaten two hits of mescaline at three in the morning (in the dead of a snowy Northwest night), exclaiming: “Let’s climb Mt. Rainier, man!”

We drove two hours and made it three hundred yards before turning back.

The speed with which Ned Gumbo reacted when we broadsided another car in a dealer’s Bentley. (We’d been timing lights on 19th Avenue in San Francisco and he’d taken his eyes off the road when I handed him a joint.)

I was bleary-eyed and still recovering from the impact when he leapt out of the car, raced across the street to a black guy on the corner. “Here!” he said, shoving a fifty in his palm. “The other driver ran the light, right?”

The look of confusion on Donna, the sister of a Bay Area friend who visited me in Portland in ’87. There were protestors at the porn theater down the street and—at the exact moment I slid into her for the first time—they began their chant: “HEY MISTER! GET OFF MY SISTER! HEY MISTER! GET OFF MY SISTER!”

I call them “snapshots,” those one-second Polaroids of friends or acquaintances that blink in and out of your consciousness, the little moments that make life worth living.

Meeting Charles Bukowski in the bathroom of a high school auditorium. He’d paused his reading to take a shit and the drunken Velman had rushed in to pound on the door of his stall, demand details of a three-hundred-pound whore Buk had fucked in New Orleans.

The grizzled poet ignored him; waited ’til he’d finished up, then swung the door open hard, knocking Danny to the floor. He wasn’t unconscious but he might as well have been. Bukowski stepped over him, walked to the sink next to mine and began washing his hands.

“That moron a friend of yours?” he asked.

“Oh yeah,” I said. “I checked him out of a rehab facility to drive me here.”

Bukowski laughed and dried off.

“I get that a lot,” he growled, then headed back to the reading.

Spread eagled on the hood of Lonesome Louie’s Plymouth Barracuda, engine revving beneath me, with the raging Rio Grande twenty yards in front of us. After a week of madness south of the border we’re going to drive across that river to Texas, try to cheat death one more time.

I wasn’t hopeful; craned my neck for a last look at Louie.

The windshield was dirty but his crazed, suicidal eyes shone through. I sighed and turned back to the river, prompting him to stick his head out the window.

“Whatever happens, High,” he yelled, “it’s been a hell of a ride!”



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.


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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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