Confession: I was a teenage stoner. Yeah, part of that arose because I really got off on burning a little doobage and laughing at stupid stuff while gorging myself on ridiculous munchie food. But there was a practical reason, too: In late-1960s and early-1970s Stockton, the town where I grew up, if you were gangly and geeky like me, there were tools with hair slicked back with Dixie Peach pomade driving around in jacked-up cars blasting Elvis or Otis Redding from their eight-tracks, and they would see you and jump out and chase you down and kick your ass.
But they were weirdly afraid of hippies and stoners, so if you grew your hair out and either got all ripped or acted that way, they didn’t mess with you — unless they were complete psychos, which, it being Stockton, there were more than a few of those. Getting high became a key to my survival. Even though, if I’d roasted a doob and was completely paranoid about everything else, there was this dispassionate quality to my waking consciousness to where I wasn’t afraid of these assclowns anymore, and in fact I thought they were pretty funny.
One night, I think it was before I’d gotten my driver’s license, I was hanging out with a friend, I think his name was Greg, but it’s been so long that I’m not so sure. I recall he lived on Alexandria Place in Park Woods, a few blocks north of Lincoln High School. Greg’s parents were out of town, he said, so we’d be able to smoke a bunch of weed and listen to Ummagumma or In the Court of the Crimson King or maybe some choice Zappa, or even Don’t Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me the Pliers, and we’d have free rein in the kitchen should ravenous hunger suddenly strike, plus if the music wasn’t doing it, there might be a good Japanese monster movie on Bob Wilkins’ TV show, it being Saturday night. We were totally set.
So there we were, starting to get pretty scribbled, and there was a bunch of noise. Greg went to check. “Oh. Fuck. My brother’s here with his friends.” Which presented a bit of a complication.
We were hunkering down in Greg’s room, afraid to play music loud for fear of getting discovered and then, of course, hassled by Coors-drinking assholes. From the other room, we could hear a trebly, jumping hunka-hunka beat that was pretty unmistakable: Elvis. I think I had a decent chunk of hash, and my friend had a makeshift pipe, so we fired up a morsel of the chunk; the thick pungent smoke got inside our heads and we started snickering at what we were hearing through the walls. Then the snickers turned to chortles, and the chortles decomposed into volcanic bursts of bury-your-face-in-a-pillow laughter. We were starting to blow it, bad.
Greg got this quizzical look on his face. “Wait here. Be right back,” he said. He got down on his hands and knees and disappeared through the door, moving in rapid-rodent stealth mode. He was gone for what seemed like an eternity, and then he suddenly burst back into the room, suppressing laughter — “Pbbbbbbbbt!” — and diving face-first into a blanket to keep from laughing noticeably out loud.
After a minute or so, the blanket came off. “Come on,” he whispered. “Recon. We gotta be totally quiet, though.”
We crawled out the door and down the hall toward the sound. I followed Greg around a corner to an open space behind a couch, which afforded us a measure of concealment. “Humba humba humba humba, a-huh a-huh a-huh a-huh” is what the sound coming out of the stereo sounded like. We were cloaked in relative darkness, and so I felt safe in peeking above the top of the couch to see what was going on.
Over in the open kitchen area, which adjoined the family room where we were hiding, I could see five or six guys, all dressed identically: white t-shirt, blue jeans, black canvas jacket, black shiny shoes with pointed toes. Everyone had lube-headed hair; no hats or caps were apparent. They all were clutching tan and silver cans of Coors beer, and there was a thick cloud of Marlboro smoke in the air. Everyone was jumpy, in time with the beat of the music, which was an Elvis greatest hits album or something, and they bobbed and weaved like boxers, appearing to tease each other in an overly aggressive manner. Definitely not mellow.
I was reasonably familiar with the music, because I liked to get stoned and watch Elvis movie marathons on late-night TV, and even though my tastes ran more toward prog rock and long-winded guitar freakouts, I still really dug Elvis because, y’know, he was the King, and nobody I knew in Stockton questioned that well-established fact. The playlist tended toward the bouncy Otis Blackwell-style pop stuff Elvis favored after his Sun Records days, or maybe the Colonel favored it — “Return to Sender,” “Teddy Bear,” that sort of thing. Greg’s brother and his friends were shucking and jiving to the beat, and I got mesmerized in watching them, and then what we’d been smoking kicked in, and all of a sudden either me or Greg or both of us started laughing, and suddenly his brother was standing over us, yelling. “What are you guys doing here?” he barked.
I let Greg do the talking. “Whaddaya mean?” he countered. “What are you guys doing here? I thought you were going to the 99 Speedway?”
We got hauled up and summoned to the kitchen, where we got jostled and shoved around by a gaggle of mooks. My heart was beating pretty fast, because in my stoned state I just wanted to chill, and getting confronted by a bunch of Coors-swilling fucksticks was not on my preferred evening agenda. Someone pushed a Coors into my hand, and a pint bottle of Jim Beam was getting passed under my nose.
“I don’t drink alcohol, man,” I recall mumbling, which was the wrong thing to say.
“Yeah, right,” one of the bigger, meaner dudes snarled back. “You smoke that pot and listen to all that weird music. You prob’ly don’t like Elvis, either.”
I was pinned between two thugs while this other asshat got into my face.
“You prob’ly don’t like pussy, either, because you potheads are a buncha pussies,” Alpha Asshat continued, looking at his pals for validation. “Huh huh huh,” they laughed back like the complete dopes they were.
“What were you pussies doing back there?” he challenged. “Suckin’ each other’s dicks? ‘Cause you boys both are such total obvious homos. Hey, you ever been drunk? Here …” The pint of Beam got pushed in my face, and I took a swig before he added “… drink.”
“Fuck you, man!” I heard Greg scream. “I mean, fuck you! Leave me and Jackie the fuck alone. We were just here not doing nothing to nobody, and you assholes had to fuck our laid-back good time up. Leave us the fuck alone, man.”
“Your name’s Jack?” one particularly stupid-looking guy said to me in what I took as a really threatening tone of voice. “Betchoo like to jack off. You boys like to masturbate?”
“Fuckin’ knock it off,” Greg’s brother yelled, shoving the nitwit back. “Let these idiots go.” Then, to us: “You better get the fuck out of here and not come back. Mom and dad are gonna be really pissed if they find out you guys were getting stoned here tonight.”
We made sure we got our weed, a pipe and the rest of my hash, and then we got our 10-speeds from the side of the house and rode off south toward Swenson Park, past the driveway and street, where a few Camaros and Chevelle Super Sports were parked; this was in the day when you either were a Chevy man or a Ford man, and if you were into Mopars — Dodges, Plymouths — you were a complete weirdo.
Me? I had a bicycle, and hoped to find a decent Volkswagen microbus someday. —Jackson Griffith