Garden Variety Dope

Recreating (and advancing) pk’s censored domains: & / Personal / Stories / Themes / Stupid Stories /

I know I’ve dropped references here and there to cops coming into my college apartment and not noticing the heroin kits open on the piano. Did I say that I didn’t notice them either? They were none of mine. I’d learn of their presence only from the relief of the owners once the cops left.

My Addictions Scrapbook asks if anything could be more stupid than chewing tobacco after seeing peer after peer get sick from it. Of course the stupid protagonist of the story was me: I did it anyway. I’ve done equally stupid things since as this file shall disclose. I’ll say up front that I don’t always stay stupid. I can’t say I’ve never tried other drugs; but I can brag that they never got anywhere with me.

Some generalizations are true: you can’t spend much time with jazz people and not run into a bunch of drugs. My first awareness of the reality of pot came in 1949, age ten, attending a series of fraternity parties at Princeton the June my cousin was graduating. More of that unforgettable time [was] narrated elsewhere. I saw the ubiquitous drunkenness myself, signs of violence, including violence against one of the cutest girls I’ve even seen in my life (her boyfriend had thrown her through a window: her arm was in a sling and she had many other bandages as well, yet she didn’t seem to mind at all); the ubiquity of the pot I took the adults’ word for.

One night in the mid-Fifties in Birdland I accepted a cigarette from a French guy who introduced himself as a member of the band aboard the Isle de France. I was sure I’d been unwittingly turned on. Turned out merely to have been a Gauloise Caporal. I wasn’t used to cigarettes made from cigar sweepings.

My first actual contact with grass and people smoking it came in my Freshman year at Columbia. Pot was far from ubiquitous there in 1956, but for those who used it, it was on hand regularly if not constantly. As someone who sought out jazz people, I came to know all of them: quickly. When I smilingly declined the reefer for the nth time, they stopped offering it to me. And as the years passed I found myself less and less welcome among them. I now know that at least part of that is because they weren’t just smoking grass anymore. Pills, opiated cough medications, and junk sure enough.

The story I’m going to post at least a brief account of here concerns hash. The jazz guy in my class I’d pursued least at first turned out to be the one who tolerated this non-player, non-head the longest. Frank didn’t live on campus. Perhaps that’s why I didn’t meet him immediately. Frank was a pathological liar. Like many such, much of what he said was true anyway. He told me he’d kicked the junk when he was eleven. He told me he had the biggest hash territory in New York: East Harlem. He told me how the spicks would pull razors, he’d show his .45. Frank was a drummer. Trap drums were seldom around the campus and I seldom heard him. But man, he could give the greatest clinic on the history of jazz piano styles. He’d play at Barnard where the chicks could dig him, but he didn’t chase me when I hung around. Fuck the chicks: I want to hear the piano. Rag time, Stride, barrel house … And of course he could do bop too. OK, that’s Frank.

Paul, if hassish were addictive,
would I smoke it every day?

Frank L.

Now I have to introduce a few more in the cast. By the time we were sophomores, my best friends weren’t musicians but esthetes. They were likely to know folk as well as classical music better than they knew jazz. But they knew literature, knew the Modern … A couple of my friends had gone to the same prep school in Riverdale. A friend of theirs, Peter, started hanging around once he was let out of the asylum at Stockbridge. Peter said he wanted to try some hash, didn’t know where to get it. Peter had a birthday coming up. I asked Frank what the smallest buy would go for. $10. I told Peter that I would get him a birthday present, something he wanted but couldn’t get: but he’d have to pay for it himself, reimburse me. $10. He didn’t ask what it was: just promised me the $10. I told Frank it was done.

Frank delivers a little chip of what looked like linoleum to me wrapped in foil. Frank shows me what to do. “I told you, it’s not for me,” I said. Sure, sure, Frank says and goes on showing me what to do. “And you wipe up the oil with your fingers and lick it all up: ’cause that’s good,” says Frank. He wants to think it’s for me? I don’t care what he’s determined to think.

Peter’s birthday comes and goes. No Peter. Damn, and I’ve got this damn illegal thing I’m $10 in the hole for. Finally, I see Peter. Uh oh. He should have been back in the bin. No way I’m going to give him this hash. Now what do I do? I ask Frank if I can return it, untouched. Frank says he’s a seller, not a buyer.

Side memory: I say “Frank, you should be careful. Don’t you know that stuff’s addictive?” Frank fixes me with his big wacky brown eyes. “Paul: if hashish were addictive, do you think I’d smoke it everyday?” Frank could be pretty funny.

Well, if I’d flushed it, as I should have, already having been stupid, this wouldn’t be another stupid story. Here’s what happened.

I was about to say I wasn’t sure exactly when it occurred, but a detail fixes the date. We were juniors. I was up on 118th Street with my friend the junkie/cough syrup addict piano player and his junkie bass player whose rent checks (to me) always bounced. (The piano player never gave me any checks: just promised them.) My friend from high school who’d been kicked out of Notre Dame for proving the architectural principle that the burglar proof dorms at St. Mary’s weren’t really burglar proof had moved in. The piano and I had already taken a third room mate to help with the rent (his checks were good). (Tony was at least one class behind us, but we’d noticed him playing Blue Trane on the juke box in the Lion’s Den. The piano’s girl moved in with Tony. note I get out of the infirmary to find a sixth roommate, one Bill Love, whose checks to everybody bounced (as was already known in six states and by the FBI: by everybody but me.) (Last I heard Bill was doing a dime in California) … It was a mess. Bill Love gave parties for thirty to fifty people. I’d be trying to study. Some girl from the party would ask if she could lie down: it’s so noisy out there. Do I mind if she takes her panties off? … (Bill was way over six foot, skinny as a rail, and as black as they grow them in Tennessee. His parties were always planned for a penthouse at the Plaza, the penthouse always reserved for the occasion. Fifty blacks show up. The reservation is lost … “there’s been a mistake” …and the party moves to my place where they all yuck about the racism.) (Maybe the Plaza knew that the check would bounce higher than the penthouse.) (My girl was four foot eleven, with blond hair past her ass. It was always something to see Bill and Naomi walking down Broadway together.)

Anyway: there’s me and there’s my high school friend Brian. On this occasion Brian and I are visiting my friend Anton on 112th Street. Somehow we wound up in Alan’s apartment in the same building. Our classmate Pete, the fabulously lyrical alto saxist (and junkie) is there. I confess to my buy for Peter. (Different Peter of course.) All agree that the hash should be kept from him. But that’s no problem, they convince me. They’ll smoke it then and there.

There’s a bit of confusion in my memory as to scene. I know it started at Alan’s. But some of it took place in my pad on 118th. I don’t remember being stupid twice, so maybe the party moved. Wherever I had the hash block, I went and got it. I tried to recall what Frank had said. Pete waved it all away. He knew what to do.

First, I was stupid to have bought it. What Peter wanted shouldn’t have been my problem. I was kind not to have given it to Peter, a schmuck for having spent my money. I was stupid not to have flushed it … And here comes a perennial stupidity of mine which I shall blame on my Calvinism: I hate to waste. I will finish a drink, or a meal, or a bottle even when it’s visibly making me sick. Can’t waste. Here I’ve got this $10 block of hash: going to waste. I should have just given it to Peter … but you see it coming from a mile: I tried it too.

Pete the Sax prepares the shit and passes the pipe around. Pete is saying, Oh, man, this is beautiful. I don’t know what he’s talking about. Pete says he’s experienced, he sees it coming; I’m a novice: I don’t know what to look for.

I feel a little heavy. I feel a little weird. There’s a knock at the door. From my chair in the back of the living room I reach out to open the door. I can’t understand why I can’t get the door knob in my hand. That the door is sixty feet away doesn’t occur to me: it seems to me that space has been obliterated. I occupy all of it.

Somehow we’re back at 118th Street. I’m being visited by a classmate pot head with his digs on the Lower East Side. I’m sick as a dog. My heart is crashing in my chest. I’m sure I’m going to die. Brian holds my hand at my bed side. Time Square is going on inside my head: phantasmagoria. Like Felix the cat in black and white with very crude pixels blinking very fast. A lot of zoom effects.

And then it strikes me: Holy Christ! I’ve never been so brilliant. Thought after thought, all of pure gold genius, are flooding me. Oh, man, you’re got to write that down, I tell myself, knowing that I couldn’t write my name. Holy Christ, you’ve got to hold onto that perception. Fix it in your mind. Remember it.

I concentrated like a maniac. And that’s when I realized: there was nothing there: no profundity: nothing but a feeling of profundity. The drug was a fraud, palming feeling for substance.

The last thing I remember from the episode was Alan and Pete the Sax and me going to Riker’s on Broadway for coffee or a burger or whatever. We sat at the counter and laughed and laughed and laughed. Back on the corner of Broadway and 112th we formed a circle of maniac glee. Suddenly I noticed Pete’s eyes: all bloodshot. Alan’s eyes: all bloodshot. God, what do I look like? I broke loose and sought my reflection. Nothing but midnight windows to look in. I finally got a bit of light on a half-assed mirror. Dr. Jeckyll met Mr. Hyde. Nothing was funny. Nothing was profound. We were just hallucinating. I’ve never been so ashamed of myself.

Later on, more than one mind decided that the hash had been doped. Maybe with opium. I don’t know. I don’t want to compare it with other hash or with opium. I don’t want any such experience ever again.

I’d intended to know better. I didn’t.

I’d promised myself as a youth that I would try pot someday: when I was at least twenty-one, preferably twenty-five. I didn’t keep my promise to myself. But maybe it’s just as well. I did learn.

I wish I could say that that was my only experience with an illicit drug.

One night my friend John brought a bottle of Pernod Brothers absinthe to my 118th pad, bottled in Paris in 1888. (Goodness, what a typo! I first posted 1988!) Absinthe has been illegal for a long time. But John having the bottle wasn’t illegal. John’s father had inherited a case of the stuff from a tenant in the building he superintended: first door north of where the Guggenheim was then being built. John and I uncorked it. The rooms filled with a dense licorice atmosphere, itself intoxicating. It’s supposed to be drunk diluted in water, I said, thinking of Degas’ great painting, the woman’s feet shambled together under her table.

Yay, Degas

I got a glass with a few ounces of water and poured merely a drop or two. The odor was instantly overpowering. The drops laced green through the water, expressing an amazing web of miscibility. John bid me sip first. That’s scary stuff, I said. John sipped … and poured the whole bottle down the sink. Could have sold it for thousands.
By the way, I forget the exact details, but absinthe is like 150 proof. And the wormwood it’s made from produces a potent narcotic. So absinthe is like drinking rum and smoking opium at the same time. I was up all that night writing an eighteenth-century lit paper and hallucinated the whole time. Just from one sip of a drink made with two drops.

I have more fingers than there are occasions on which I’ve smoked pot. I wish I could say I have ten more. Every time has been stupid. But social pressures, especially business social pressures, can be adamant. Someone crucial to my business wants me to join them in a toke, on more than one occasion I’ve taken the one toke and then passed it by me the next round. But the times I’ve passed it by me on the first round and on every round thereafter have been many.


There is nothing in me that sympathizes with people who become addicted to things involving needles. Imagine putting a needle into your balls, the piano said to me. I was puking. He was enthusiastic. He’d been looking for agreement.

That story though has a happy sequel. When I was eighteen, the piano, admitted to Columbia at fifteen, seemed vastly more brilliant than the rest of us put together. By the time we graduated, he could barely complete a sentence. He went to California hoping to get off the cough syrup. He went to graduate school in England so he could register for legal H. They caught him double and triple registering and put him in jail anyway. His best friend, whom I also loved, the incredible Bobby Fractor, was dead at twenty-five. Almost certainly murdered: some parties may have thought he knew too much. (Bobby, when not in jail, was living with the great bassist Wilbur Ware: and a bunch of much bigger time dealers than Bobby ever was.) It’s easy to kill a junkie. Tell him rat poison will get him off. Of just give him some real H: pure. (And I think that’s what they did: let him at the uncut stuff.)

Anyway, years later Myron tells me: he’s back in the states. Looks for his connection. Can’t wait to get lit. His pusher can’t find a vein. Gets his pants down in the mens room. Tries to tickle his balls. Maybe if he gets an erection, the vein on his dick will take the needle. Myron saw himself the way I saw myself with the bloodshot eyes. Myron puts his pants back on and walks away from it. Years later I think he was smoking a little grass again. But I sure hope he stayed off the needle. As far as I know he did. Got married. Got his Ph.D. Was teaching at a university run by our friend, the alto sax, who always had grass in the dorms.



Make sure I tell the story sometime of Myron and Tony, Marty (Mongo’s trumpet), Naomi, and I going to Nyack to get some of Tony’s family furniture and having to wait while the police tiptoed around a guy with the kitchen knife sticking from his chest. The ride home was one of my life’s worst experiences.

@ K. 2001 05 01

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About pk

Seems to me that some modicum of honesty is requisite to intelligence. If we look in the mirror and see not kleptocrats but Christians, we’re still in the same old trouble.
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1 Response to Garden Variety Dope

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