Showing posts with label Drug Stories. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Drug Stories. Show all posts

The Young Republicans Club

Before high school I never met anyone who wasn’t a Catholic Democrat so I didn’t know what to expect when I found myself in the company of classmates from Butte’s Republican minority. How we first related to each other was through marijuana. They smoked. I smoked. We all smoked. It wasn’t until one of them said, “Maybe the Young Republicans of Butte should actually have a meeting” that I even realized the kind of company I was keeping.

The mission of the Young Republicans of Butte was to get their parents to supply dues money that could be used to buy drugs. It was a very successful mission. Parents of the Young Republicans wanted to do everything they could to support their budding party faithful and money was no obstacle. In fact, dues collection often exceeded expectations. Lucky for me, my Young Republican friends weren’t nearly as politically polarized as their parents, so I was made an honorary member.

Not wanting to disturb the flow of funds, we took great care to be out of sight when we met. In warmer months it was easy to hide in nearby woods, but in Winter we relied on roads less traveled to preserve our privacy. Sealing ourselves in the rusty remains of a brown Dodge Dart, nine of us usually lent it just enough weight to plow through the waist deep drifts covering all local routes to closed mountain campgrounds, our typical pot party destinations.

One frosty night in February 1970, the Young Republicans of Butte spent a sizeable sum of dues money on a large quantity of quality Sensimilla, then immediately headed out to the closest campground. With intervals of pushing and digging and gunning the engine, it took an hour to navigate the six miles of rutted dirt road. By the time we settled in a spot behind a stand of large pine trees, the temperature had fallen from a tolerable zero to well below. We cranked the windows tight, blasted the heat before killing the engine. Two pipes and a joint simultaneously circled between the front and back seat. Oily smoke poured from our lips. We took this as a sign that the product was rich in resins and celebrated our good fortune by lighting another round.

Intermittently occupied with fits of laughter, brilliant insights, or the fractured patterns of milky frost on the windows, we hardly noticed that the air inside the Dodge had become a dense smog until someone in the back seat tried lighting one last bowl. He struck a match and it went out immediately, then another and another. On the fifth attempt we noticed that the match head hardly even sparked, like it wanted to light but was starved of oxygen. We concluded that we must be breathing pure marijuana smoke. A united rush of paranoid adrenaline peaked in an immediate need to answer one question, “Are we going to suffocate?” An altar boy among us offered to administer last rites.

Someone in the back seat said, “Shit, I can’t take this anymore. I can’t breathe and I’ve gotta pee. She opened the car door and a rush of cold air cleared the smoke immediately. We were saved by a teeming bladder. “Hell,” said the President of the Young Republicans of Butte, “ we better make a motion to always crack a window open.” We all voted yes then rejoined our agenda by lighting another round.

Hanks A Lot

Ronald Reagan’s “War on Drugs” poisoned Mexican marijuana fields with paraquat.  So finding a reliable supply of the plant was a constant challenge at a time when demand was on the rise in the early 1980’s.  Beyond the legacy of a Haight Street lifestyle, marijuana was the only affordable and effective palliative for those caught in the first wave of the AIDS epidemic.

Scott Smith, Harvey Milk’s former partner, decided to remedy the problem by consolidating product from secret homegrown sources into a weed retailing boutique. At his apartment near Castro and Eighteen, center of the City’s busiest gay district, he opened a full service cannabis outlet called “The Store”.

There was a semi-formal process for becoming a customer. In order to become one, you had to be introduced by one.  My friend Charles was among the first to be admitted and he recommended me into the fold soon after.  

Everyone involved with the store was named Hank which seemed like more of a joke than a serious stab at anonymity. Scott and most of the other Hanks were well known in the City.  And by the time “The Store” was operating in full swing, there was a constant and very noticeable stream of customers up and down the stairs to the top floor of the purple Victorian.  

The purchase process was simple. I’d call and ask for Hank, tell them my name and who introduced me, and I’d be given an appointment slot at “The Store”.  For the first few months, appointments were spaced far apart so that customers didn’t see each other. Then traffic exceeded the number of time slots and customers were passing each other on the stairs.  A fainting couch seating area was added where a melange of Drag queens, leather men, and three-piece suits waited patiently for their time to score.  

The merchandise was displayed on a card table in the dining room. You could smell and touch the wares, but not light up.  Your purchase was weighed on an antique balance scale used in an assay office during the Gold Rush.  These were men who knew how to retail.

Scott had remained politically active after Harvey’s death, so when San Francisco won the 1984 Democratic convention, Scott was first in line to volunteer.  Being from Mississippi, he asked to be the “official greeter” for his home state delegates.  The Mississppi down home delegates, though, weren’t at all gay about having Scott as their greeter and they asked for a straight replacement.  This made the national news.  “Democratic Party Discriminates Against a Gay Son of the Solid South”. Using the lessons he learned from Harvey about making Media that changes minds, Scott welcomed the opportunity to tell his side of the story.  

Directly in front of his apartment, also known as “The Store”, Scott was interviewed on all the national news channels .  Watching CBS that night, I imagined the banner “Homosexual Drug Haven” scrolling under Scott’s name and thought, “Oh my god, what if?”

A few days later, I got a frantic phone call from my friend Charles. “The Store” had just gotten raided by the DEA and he was there when it happened.

At the time, Charles was one of the three-piece suit customers.  An inheritance from his Georgia-Pacific wood products family hadn’t been handed down yet, so he occupied himself in the meantime by handling the Haas Family finances.  Charles had no tolerance for personal inconvenience even when it impacted the dreams of those closet to him.  His partner, Jonathan, knew this first hand.

Jonathan was doing post-graduate work in medieval Italian at San Francisco State and won a Fullbright scholarship to study in Florence for two years.   Preparation was made to ensure that Charles would be comfortable in Italy, including renting a villa in the hills so he wouldn’t be exposed to city annoyance.  They lasted two months.  The Italians were too loud and rude for Charles.  He insisted that Jonathan cede the scholarship so they could return to San Francisco. Charles was not the kind of person who could survive doing time on drug charges.  

Charles was in “The Store”, at the card table, making a purchase when the raid started.  Payment was about to change hands as the DEA hammered through the front door.  With an eye toward self preservation and financial reward, Charles kept the cash, grabbed the weed, and searched for the nearest exit.

Squeezing the booty into his Armani briefcase, he left through a bathroom window, then scaled the ten foot privacy fence and hid for hours in the back row of the Strand Adult Theater on Market Street. For once, its cum encrusted seats did not annoy him. Charles was the only one in “The Store” who escaped arrest that day, and he even managed to come away with some contra ban.  By the time he called me from a phone booth inside the Strand, Charles was expressing a degree of gratitude unusual for his upbringing.

The news that night made Scott look like a drug lord.  On the eve of the Democratic Convention, footage of the raid was broadcast nationally. Shutting down the “The Store” just days before the convention accomplished at least two goals politically. Dianne Feinstein, despite being the first female mayor of a notoriously liberal city, earned tough-on-crime credibility among Ronald Regan democrats, and a delighted delegation from Mississippi had a politically convenient reason to decline a homosexual hand of friendship.

A few years later, I was cleaning out a drawer and found a scribbled phone number labeled, “The Store”.  Curious to see if it still worked, I dialed it up.  A warm voice answered, but dipped below freezing when I asked, “Is Hank there?”

“How did you get this number?”, he demanded.

“Ah, I used to know a group, kind of into performance art, called ‘Hank’.  Just calling to see if they're still around,” I replied. “My friend Charles was a big fan”.

“No Hanks here now, Honey," the voice snorted back. "They retired after serving the clients from hell. But the current management hopes your friend enjoyed the sample he salvaged from his last visit."

I hung up the phone knowing that somewhere in the City, “The Store” most certainly survived.