I have recently acquired a working turntable and have been copying all my old vinyl LP's to MP3 (hey, it's a new century - technology changes). So I've been listening to a lot of great old rock'n'roll I haven't listened to in decades - the first albums by the Dead, the Airplane, Country Joe, Cream. While listening, I've been studying the album covers and liner notes to read the histories of the bands. Good stuff, and it sure brings back memories.
I picked up one album - Children of the Future, one of the trippiest of Steve Miller's - and noticed a name written in magic marker on the back: Siemens. Who the hell is Siemens, I wondered. I leafed through a few more albums and found that all the Steve Miller albums and several others bore the same name. I was pretty sure I never knew anybody named Siemens, and if I bought them second hand, it was strange that I had a bunch owned by the same guy. It was mysterious. Then some very tiny faint bell began to ring. The guy in Champaign! My mind went back nearly fifty years.
It was 1967. I was living in Yellow Springs, Ohio, supposedly attending Antioch Colege, but mostly just hanging out and getting high. To support some fairly expensive drug habits, I was selling drugs around the Midwest. That makes it sound like a big gangster operation, but it was really just a large circle of friends. In addition to my many stoner acquaintances in Yellow Springs, I had friends at several colleges in Ohio and Indiana, and I supplied their needs. Every few months when supplies ran low, I made a run to New York, where I knew a little gnome-like guy on the Lower East Side who could get anything and was reasonable and fair - a most unusual combination. So it was a casual, intermittent operation, providing just enough for food, rent, and drugs.
But at some point that fall all the usual sources in Yellow Springs went dry around the same time. Everybody was running low and nobody was selling. I decided to do a major run. I talked to all my friends at Antioch and took their orders. They all knew me and fronted me the cash (it was a more innocent time), and in two days I was on my way to New York with several thousand in cash rolled up in my underwear. I figured it improved my look.
I met my man acceptably quickly (“first thing you learn is you always gotta wait” - Leonard Cohen), went through the usual rituals and negotiations, and in two days I was climbing onto a Greyhound with an army duffel bag full of goodies. I had boxes of acid, uppers, downers, envelopes full of crystal speed and smack, good quantities of several interesting hashish varieties, and three kilos of good weed. I kept reaching down under the seat to pat it contentedly. I was broke again, but I had a treasure with me. I remembered the old joke that every woman is sitting on a fortune.
When I got back to Yellow Springs, it was like Santa had arrived. I made the circuit of my friends' houses. It was a good time. Everyone was very happy to see me, and swept me in to cheers and applause. I handed out my presents, and of course was invited to partake, so I remained more than usually ripped for the next week.
When this orgy was over (and I like to think it is still fondly remembered here and there around the world), I still had a shitload of stuff. I called my friends in a rock band in Cincinnati called The Sacred Mushroom and asked if it was time for a topping up of their stashes. It was. A friend drove me the hour down to Cincy. The band welcomed us into their big old house – a place as strangely decorated as any I visited in San Francisco. In spite of their name, they were mainly interested in acid and mescaline. I sold them a lot of it, then we all dropped and had a memorable 24-hour mutual trip - including playing a gig at a fraternity house. I helped out as a roadie. I knew the band was just as fried as I was and I was astounded they could still play that great. I remember the drummer telling me that he kept wanting to really rip off some riffs a la Ginger Baker, but the frat boys only wanted to dance. All he had to do was keep up a steady four-beat, accent on two and four. That covered 95% of all rock’n’roll, blues, and R&B songs.
Found this online
When I got back to Yellow Springs, I still had an embarrassment of riches. Somebody said there was a nascent hippie scene of sorts at the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana. So I looked it up on a map and jumped on another Greyhound. I got off the bus in Champaign around noon on a Friday and asked around till I found a city bus to take me to the campus. It was a pretty place, with a wide grassy lawn crisscrossed by sidewalks full of students. It looked a lot like my first alma mater, Ohio State, but much smaller. I wandered around looking for long hair.
There wasn't much. Most students had short or buzz cuts, wore Madras short-sleeved shirts and pressed slacks, and looked Midwest-style preppie. I was wearing tight bell-bottom pants with red and blue stripes, a tie-dyed tee-shirt, and a head band, and I attracted no little notice. I wandered for hours. It was getting late and I was exhausted from my all-night bus ride and lugging around that big duffel bag. I flopped down on some steps that seemed to be fairly central to the campus. Then I saw a vision of loveliness – a girl was coming toward me.
She was obviously a hippie, her long straight brown hair tied in a head band. She was wearing an Indian block print dress that was so thin I could see her body shadowed against the setting sun. She wasn't wearing a bra, and her large full breasts swayed heavily. The dress was daringly short, and she had strong deeply tanned legs and was barefoot. I thought she was gorgeous and was trying to think of an opening line. But she walked right up to me with a huge grin on her face, sat down beside me, and said, “Hi. Who the hell are you?”
“I'm, uh, I'm Brian,” I replied cleverly.
“I'm Elissa. I thought I know all the hippies in this town, but you're new. Where you from?”
“Just on the road,” I replied, which struck me as cooler than Yellow Springs.
“What are you doing here?”
I decided it was time to be direct. If such a hot chick was a narc, my hippie senses were worthless. I glanced around to make sure no one was listening. “Know anybody who wants some grass?”
She nodded her head ruefully. “Yeah. Everybody.”
“You mean there's none around?” This could be good for business.
“I haven't seen any weed in a month,” she said. “Whoever was bringing it in must have gotten busted or something. This town is dry.”
“I may be able to help,” I suggested.
She looked at me. “You have some grass?”
“Might be able to find some.” I patted the duffel bag meaningfully.
Her eyes widened. “How much you have in there?”
“Used to be a lot, but I've been moving product pretty well. Only got a key left.”
“A key?” she squeaked. “You mean a kilo?”
I looked around again. “Yeah, but keep it down, will you? You know anybody who might be interested?”
“Shit, yes, lots of people. But it will take a while.”
“Yeah, that’s a problem. I mean, I’m pretty conspicuous here. I’m getting nervous and I’d like to make this deal and clear out before someone official notices me.”
She nodded her head vigorously (and charmingly). “Oh, yeah, I get it. How long you planning on hanging around?”
“Ideally I’d like to be on the road again tonight.”
“Oh wow, tonight? You know, it’s Friday and everybody’s going to want to party tonight. It will take a while to find all my friends. Some of them might not be coming home tonight, if you know what I mean. It might take till tomorrow.”
This seemed like an opportunity. “Well, I guess if I had a safe place to crash for the night, that might be okay.”
She laughed. “Hell, man, if you’re telling the truth about that key, you can sleep anywhere you want.”
That struck me as a very promising prospect, so I resolved to cast my lot with Elissa and see what happened. “Sounds good,” I said. “Where do we start?”
“My friend Jerry’s. Sometimes a bunch of freaks hang out there.” She got up, tossed her huge woven purse over her shoulder, and walked away. I threw my duffel over my shoulder and was happy to follow – she sure got everything moving under that thin dress.
We walked off the campus and a few blocks down a residential street. She turned into a building that appeared to be an apartment block. We went up a couple flights of stairs and she rapped at a door. I could hear rock music, and it got much louder when the door was opened by a moderately straight-looking guy. I recognized the type – a dude still in school so he couldn’t get too hippie for class. But when he went out partying, he had a set of hippie regalia to put on. He as wearing a fringed vest over his dress shirt and had a string of beads around his neck. He had brushed his hair down over his forehead, all John Sebastian. He looked at Elissa and his face lit up with a big smile. Then he caught sight of me behind her on the dim landing. “Hey, Elissa,” he said. “Who’s this?”
She grinned. “Someone you guys are going to want to meet. Okay if we come in?”
He looked me over cautiously. These were the days when a joint could get you life in prison. “I don’t know. Is he cool?”
“Very,” she laughed. “Let us in, Jerry.”
He stood back and we entered a typical 60’s college apartment. Indian bedspreads and movie posters on the walls, an American flag serving as a curtain for the kitchen, and rows of books on a bricks-and-boards bookcase. There were four people sitting on the floor or on low ratty furniture – three guys and a chick, all two or three years younger than me, and all sporting some items of hippie gear. It could have been an apartment in Yellow Springs, except there was no sign of a pipe or a joint. Still, they looked like nice enough kids. Elissa and I flopped down on the floor and they shuffled around to make room. I leaned back against my duffel.
“Guys,” began Elissa, “this is Brian.” She rattled off their names and I forgot them as soon as I heard them. The girl was quite cute. The guys looked like they might be English lit majors and probably went to poetry readings. It might be fun to get into a metaphysical rap with them. They were all looking me over as we chatted. With my shoulder-length hair and considerably more outlandish clothes, I was clearly something they hadn’t encountered before. None of them asked me where I was from and no last names were exchanged, so they weren’t completely inexperienced. I decided to get right to the point.
“You guys interested in scoring a little dope?” I asked. They looked at me in some surprise. “We might be,” said Jerry, the guy who’d let us in. He was being noncommittal. “What you got?”
I shrugged. “Pretty much anything. Grass, hash, acid, smack, speed, whatever.”
They flipped out. It turned out they all smoked weed but had never tried anything more exotic. Suddenly they were all excitedly asking questions. They wanted to know about all these new drugs. They were like kids in a candy store. And I could roll out my best drug rap.
“Shit!” said one of the guys. “I’ve never even heard of some of that stuff. I know grass, and hash is hashish, right? And acid is LDS?”
I shrugged. “That’s actually the Mormon Church, but they’re kind of tripped out too, so a lot of people make that mistake. Acid is LSD, lysergic acid diethylamide-25.”
“I read about that in Life Magazine,” said the girl. “Doesn’t it make you go crazy?”
“That’s what the straights want you to think. Actually it helps you see through all their bullshit. It’ll change you for sure. After you’ve tripped, the think of your life as in two parts – before and after. You know that Jimi Hendrix album ‘Are You Experienced?’ That’s what it’s about – are you before or after your first psychedelic experience. Not to be taken casually.”
“Have you tried it?” asked Elissa, her eyes wide.
“Sure, hundreds of times. Acid’s my favorite drug of all. But it’s very powerful, and I don’t recommend it for people who aren’t comfortable with losing control. You’ll see all kinds of strange shit, and think about things you never thought of before. It really helps to have someone experienced to guide you.”
They looked at me in wonder and, I hoped in Elissa’s case at least, some degree of admiration. I was rather proud of my knowledge of illegal drugs.
“What was that other stuff you mentioned? Was it slap and speed?”
I laughed. “Smack and speed. That’s heroin and methamphetamine crystal. You snort them; or shoot ‘em if you’re hard core. They’re both pretty scary and dangerously addictive. I don’t think that’s for you guys. But have you tried hash yet?”
“No,” said another guy. “Isn’t it just like grass?”
I smiled knowingly. “It’s made from the same plant, Cannabis sativa, but it’s a completely different high.”
“Grass, weed, shit, pot, or boo is the leaves and flower buds of the plant. The stuff that gets you high is called tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC. It’s mostly in the flower buds, so they’re about ten times stronger than the leaves. Around here mostly we get just the leaves swept off the warehouse floor after the Mexicans have smoked the buds. But it’s especially concentrated in the pollen. And hash, my friends, is made from just the pollen.” I waited for the appreciative “Oohs,” and continued. “So it’s much stronger than grass, but the high is different, too.”
“Like how?” asked Elissa.
“Well, it’s more…” I considered various descriptions, then gave up. “Fuck it, let’s just do some. A toke is worth a thousand words.”
I opened my duffel and started digging through it, dragging stuff out. Mostly it was a lot of rather rank dirty clothes I’d been lugging around for weeks looking for a crash pad with a free washing machine. I tossed them hurriedly aside, then dragged out my set of four recorders, my patch cord for my (now hocked) bass, and a couple of girlie mags. The kids watched all this in wonder. Finally, from deep in the bag (sometimes officials lose enthusiasm when confronted with dirty underwear), I emerged with a round tin can – The Stash.
It had started life as a tin of cookies my Mom had sent me for Christmas. They arrived in a dorm room packed with ten or fifteen stoned hippies and lasted maybe five minutes. The tin, however, was stout and waterproof, and I began keeping my stash in it. The lid was a handy work surface and I’d often cut coke and lined speed on it. We’d experimented with smoking banana peels on it (a spurious urban legend), so the painting on the lid (a jolly Currier and Ives sleighing scene) was soon blistered and cracked. One night in a speed frenzy, I’d gotten all OCD about cleaning it up and scraped off every speck of paint with my Buck knife. Now it shined like burnished silver, and the millions of scratches gave it a sparkly, ever-changing glamour. The heated metal had turned prismatic and gave it a lot of interest. I placed this hallowed object on the floor between us.
I removed the lid with a flourish and everyone leaned forward to peer inside. There was a fad among heads in those days for small cheap translucent plastic boxes of varied sizes, shapes, and colors. I had bought a bunch and carefully worked out the proper pattern for packing them in so they did not rattle and no space was wasted. The interstices were filled with pill bottles, packets made of paper or foil, and small wrapped bundles. Pipes, roach clips, rolling papers, lighters, and matches filled a central compartment. I was quite proud of The Stash.
The kids stared wide-eyed. “Let’s see, hash,” I said. I pulled out a yellow box, opened it, and poured out a lumpy, rather turd-like object the color of brown sugar. “Lebanese brown,” I said, passing it to Jerry. They passed it from hand to hand like show-and-tell day. Elissa handed it back to me. I pulled my knife from its sheath on the back of my belt and shaved off a generous paring. I took out a little brass opium pipe with a long bamboo stem and tamped the hash into it, then lit a match. “It’s harsher than weed, so it tends to make you cough. Hold it in as long as you can, but if you have to cough it out, go ahead. Don’t hurt yourself or anything.” I took a long hit, and the hash bubbled and curled. I passed the pipe to Jerry. We all took deep hits and stared at each other in silence, as only happens in stoner parties. Pretty soon we were all grinning at each other. The other girl fell over onto her back laughing, and one of the guys was just staring off into space. That was great hash.
I put the Lebanese away and pulled out a small enameled snuff box. Inside was a black, shiny, tarry substance. I dipped out a small quantity with the tip of my knife and reloaded the pipe. “Now this is Nepali black, from the high Himalayas. It’s supposed to be the purest. They send virgin girls to run naked through the fields and then scrape the hash off them.” I lit the match before anyone could ask me anything further about that legend. Hey, somebody told me that, and I wanted to believe it.
The pipe made a second round, and by now everybody was lying flat on the floor. We all felt pretty cosmic. One of my favorite parts of getting really high with people, is that it’s impossible to stay cool. I’d seriously impressed these kids with my wares and my rap, but now we were all just lying around giggling, listening to Donovan and talking about how spacey his lyrics were.
After a while I realized it was getting late and I hadn’t made a sale. I sat up. “So, how about it? Anyone interested?” They all pushed themselves to their feet and all the guys bought small packages of both hashes. Still, it didn’t add up to more than a hundred bucks. I needed to move some weed to put this trip into the black.
“What’s your situation on weed?”
“Oh, man,” said one of the guys, “we’ve been out for weeks. The whole town is dry, I think.” The others shook their heads in sad agreement.
“I think I can help with that.” I dug into my duffel and pulled out the key. It was wrapped in a Mexican newspaper and tied with brown string. I untied it and opened the wrapping. “Best Michoacán,” I said. The kids’ eyes bugged at the sight of the pressed block of weed. They’d never seen so much pot. I pulled a pinch off the side, crumbled it between my palms, and rolled a joint. I fired it up and passed it around. Everyone was still woozy from the hash, but there was no question the weed was having its effect. Soon we were all flat on our backs again. An old dog sauntered in from the kitchen, looked at all of us, then walked over to me and flopped down leaning against me. Everybody laughed as I rubbed his ears and he closed his eyes in pleasure.
“Man,” I said. “Look how much he’s into it. You, know, heads are always looking for something trippy to do when they’re high – lights or funny glasses or something – but this is one of the best things to do. Time spent petting a dog is never wasted.”
One of the guys snorted and patted the leg of the girl beside him. “Fuck the dog, man. Pet a girl.” We all considered that comment in silence for a few seconds. At first it made perfect sense, then Elissa started to giggle. “You sure you don’t have that backwards?” she asked. And we all guffawed and went into one of those communal belly laughs that straights rarely get to enjoy. Each time I’d catch my breath, someone else would break out and set us off again. When we finally settled down, I considered that my business still wasn’t done.
“Speaking of fucking the dog,” I segued smoothly, “does anyone want to buy some weed?
They all sat up and stared at the brick of weed. “That’s good shit,” said Jerry. “How much is it?”
“Twenty a lid,” I said. I had several lids already baggied up, and clipped one to my hand-held scales. I held it up. “An honest ounce, see? Most lids are seriously short. You can cut this up into five nickel bags, sell four and break even, and have a bag for free.”
Everybody pulled out their wallets and started trading twenties for baggies. But Jerry kept staring at the kilo.
“How much for the whole thing?” he asked.
We all stared at him in surprise. I started doing some quick arithmetic. A key is 35 lids, so worth about $700 retail (though I never managed to actually get more than a couple dozen lids before the key was somehow gone). I’d paid $250 for it in New York and taken considerable risk buying it, transporting it, and flogging it around. On the other hand, selling it a lid at a time to 35 strangers was pushing my odds of hitting a narc or being ripped off. One sale to one guy minimized that risk.
“Five hundred,” I said, rather proud of myself for doing that much mental math in my condition.
From the several gasps I realized this was a sum much larger than any of them had ever put into a deal.
“Dig it, man,” I said. “Look at it this way. That’s 35 lids, so they could yield 175 nickel bags for close to $900. And if the town has been dry a long time, you could make smaller nickel bags and make a grand or more.”
“He’s right, Jerry,” said the other dude – Tom, perhaps. “You know people would snap them up. It’s Michigan weed, he says.”
“Not Michigan,” I said. “The Free and Sovereign State of Michoacán. It’s in Mexico.”
He shrugged. “Wherever. It’s dynamite shit, Jerry. We could make a fortune. Let’s do it. You other guys in?”
“Not me,” said Elissa. The other chick – I never caught her name – said she could put in fifty. The three guys got out their wallets. Between all of them they had $375.
“Oh, man,” said Jerry. “It’s Friday night. The bank will be closed till Monday.” (This was in the days before ATM’s and electronic transfers, dear younger reader.) “Will you take a check?”
I gave him the fish-eye. “Yeah, why don’t you give me a piece of paper with your full name and mine on it? You could add a memo: ‘For a kilo of weed.’ That’s not how this works, Jerry. Cash and carry.” I wrapped the brick up again and prepared to put it back in my duffel.
“Oh, man,” Jerry groaned. “I really want that key.” He looked around his apartment. How about my stuff? Anything you want to take in trade?”
I looked around. There was nothing there I had any interest in. “No, thanks. Reckon I’ll be moving on. Nice doing business with you guys.”
“No, wait!” Jerry cried. “My stereo. Look at the stereo. It’s brand new, almost.”
I got up and went over to his stereo. It had a turntable and a tape deck and was portable, with detachable speakers that could be clipped to the front of the amp so you could lug it around like a big suitcase. It was good quality – definitely better than the wimpy old stereo I had back at my place. I didn’t know much about the value of the thing, but I guessed it might have cost a hundred and fifty.
“I’ll give you a hundred for it,” I offered. “No more.”
“We’re still $25 short,” moaned Tom.
“Take something else, man,” Jerry urged me. “Anything. Anything at all.”
I started feeling like a repo guy or something, but we were approaching a deal here. “How about some records?” I suggested. “I’ll take ten. My choices.”
He gulped and looked at his record collection, then back at the key in my hands. “Yeah, okay. Ten records.”
I started flipping through his albums. I soon hit a Steve Miller. I pulled it out and read some of the cover notes. “These guys are good,” I said. “I heard them once at the Straight Theater on Haight Street. But I don’t have any of their albums.”
“Yeah, they’re great,” he said wistfully. “I got several of theirs.”
I went through his collection and pulled out five Millers and five others more or less at random. I looked at him as he watched me piling them into a stack. Each one had his name, “Siemens” written neatly on the back. “You sure you want to do this?” I asked.
“Yeah. What the fuck – I’ll be able to replace them all next week, right?”
“Right. Well, here you go then.” I handed him the kilo and he clutched it to his chest like a baby. He helped me unplug the stereo and clipped it closed, stuffing all the loose wires inside.
“Thanks, man,” I said, shaking hands with him. “Been a pleasure.” I turned to Elissa. “I’m beat, babe. You said you knew a place where I could crash?”
“Yeah,” she replied. “I do.” She gave me a look that caused my hopes and things to rise. I handed her the stack of records, shouldered my duffel, then bent to pick up the stereo. It weighed a ton and was very awkward to try to walk with. It was going to be a bitch to haul the duffel and the stereo back to Ohio on the bus. I staggered out of the apartment under my load. Elissa walked beside me with a happy grin.
“That was so cool,” she said. “Those guys will never forget that.”
“Yeah, thanks for hooking me up with them. Where are we going?”
She gave me a wicked grin. “My place,” she said, putting her arm around my waist.
I just smiled. Suddenly my load wasn’t heavy any more.