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Risen Apes: Typecast

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Risen Apes: Typecast

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S.M. Park’s column Risen Apes about being a 70-year-old boomer. In “Typecast,” Park talks about going from fast typing to pot cultivation, and some experiences in Amsterdam.

I was reading a NY Times article this morning about the revival of speed typing contests. They were last popular in the 1920s apparently, when they attracted eleven thousand people to a Madison Square Garden event.

Even stranger: the winners were hailed as celebrities and sent on nationwide tours. There were no such bennies when I was “The World’s Fastest Typist” fifty years later (partly because I was self-proclaimed, of course, having never seen or heard of anyone who typed as fast as I did).

This was in 1977 (when computers were first appearing in offices), because before that the fastest you could go on an electric typewriter was 130 words per minute. (Anything north of that would jam the keys.)

Then word processors arrived, which meant you were only limited by your hand/eye coordination. I rarely transcribed a document, then counted the words to discern exactly how fast I’d gone, but used to say it was somewhere in the 160 to 170 w.p.m. range.

Even that was considered unlikely at the time but I was, as it turns out, shortchanging my output, as the typists who perform in online competitions today regularly exceed 220 w.p.m. and (after watching them on video) they don’t look or sound any faster than I was.

They’re just as single minded, however, and seem to ponder the same question I did, i.e. is the ability to speed type more about talent or practice? It’s a tough call (as reading and processing words that quickly requires an unusually facile mind), but the fact those young burners have already experienced nerve and ligament damage puts me in the latter camp.

Fingers (and the architecture that supports them) aren’t designed to move that rapidly for that long; my own were just beginning to protest when I traded typing for pot cultivation.

Fingers (and the architecture that supports them) aren’t designed to move that rapidly for that long; my own were just beginning to protest when I traded typing for pot cultivation.

Scanners would have replaced me soon enough, anyway, just as legalization ended my criminal career a quarter century later.

But watching those videos I couldn’t help wondering whether (my tendonitis and hand tremors and glaucoma and waning focus notwithstanding) I couldn’t brush up a little, enter one of those “TypeRacer” contests myself, leave those stubby fingered wannabes in my wake.

Had half convinced myself it was doable when my neighbor knocked at the door yesterday.

He seemed relieved when I opened it.

“Haven’t seen you in awhile, Pops,” he said. “Just wanted to be sure you’re still alive.”

Pops!? Guess I’ll stick with my yesterdays, after all.

* * *

I’ve started weeding through keepsakes in anticipation of my move this Fall, unearthing a box labeled AMSTERDAM recently. It was stuffed with items like the 9/11/01 Newark, NJ boarding pass I never used. (When the twin towers were struck the Continental jet I was on turned around in the middle of the Atlantic and flew back to Amsterdam.)

It was clipped to a postcard I drew afterwards:

On a lighter note were badges from the ’95 Cannabis Cup and three Vancouver, Canada Tokers’ Bowls (2002-04), contests where you burned through twenty-four varieties in four days, then voted for your favorite at the end.

Escapades like that (much less thirty years of cigarette smoking) mean I don’t wonder why I’m limited to a few puffs a day now. I know exactly where my lungs went.

Also in the box were a dozen seed pamphlets (including a classic 1985 edition of The Seed Bank catalogue), pot coffeeshop maps, a flyer from The Sativa Sisters guesthouse in Vancouver, (where I spent a weekend with three buddies in 2006), a copy of my 2002 comic 20 Great Reasons to Grow Dope for a Living … and easily a thousand photographs.

Their number alone shows how loaded I was in that town. I carried a camera everywhere in the Nineties and early Aughts and—judging by those snapshots (much less the ones in my photo albums from the period)—I’m either the worst photographer who ever lived or the most stoned.

Probably both. I can justify the countless architectural studies (given my desire to draw a graphic novel of Amsterdam someday), but after a quick run through I ditched them as easily as the rest of the photos.

I only kept two. The first documented my visit to a Dutch bowling alley in 2000. I went with some local friends after ingesting a handful of shrooms, and the fact that there, in the tight-ass, penny-pinching capital of the world, you paid to bowl by the minute was too perfect for this Schadenfreude.

I sat in the back of our booth, watched lane after lane of cheap guys timing their balls so they’d hit the pins a split second after the pin changer lifted.

I laughed like a lunatic and wasn’t invited back. Shrooms occupied a prominent place in the second, even more evocative photo, too, as it’s a snapshot of Oz, the self-proclaimed “Mushroom King of Amsterdam.” I’d come to think of him as a figment of my imagination over the years, just another in a long line of hallucinations that seemed real but you couldn’t be sure.

Yet there, stuck to the back of a catalogue by a splotch of tomato sauce, was a picture I’d taken of Oz in his front room.

Suddenly it all came back to me, how he was a little guy from Detroit who’d moved to Amsterdam in the Eighties and now raised Cubensis mushrooms in attics around town.

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How I got to his place and what I was doing there is sketchier. I know he brewed a strong mushroom tea for us, and I remember hoping he knew what he was doing (based on the wizard’s hat and robe he wore), that it would at least cure my jet lag.

It did that and more. At some point we had a verbal altercation (he didn’t like that I used psychedelics for laughs), and the next thing I knew Oz was jumping up and down and cursing me.

Seems I’d burnt a hole in his robe with my joint. When he got over that he stepped forward, drew a breath and stabbed his finger at me.

“Enough of this foreplay!” he spat. “Show me the secret handshake.”

“Of what?” I asked.

“The International Tall Guys’ Club, of course! I’ve seen you longnecks in airports, looking down on the rest of us and snickering.”

“You … know about that!?” I gasped.

“Damn right I do!” he said. “Now c’mon, High … what’s the handshake?”

“Sorry, shorty,” I sighed. “I’m not allowed to teach it to anyone under 6’4”.”

The next thing I knew I was sitting in a local coffeeshop, smoking a spliff and nursing a welt on my forehead.

The Motown son-of-a-bitch had whacked with me his wand.


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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