My first experience with head shops came when I was 18 years old, a recently graduated high school student who was working hard over the summer to save up money for college. Or at least that’s what I told my parents I was saving the money for. In reality, more than a little of that money was set aside for something that I considered to be more important, namely beer and weed. (If that isn’t classic 18 year old thinking, I don’t know what is. What’s even funnier is that we allow 18 year olds to vote. How Bob Marley was never elected President is one of life’s enduring mysteries.)
Now, anyone who has ever smoked pot as a young adult can tell you that pot smokers are nothing if not resourceful. Remember that scene in Apollo 13 where they dump a tray full of shit on a table and challenge a bunch of engineers to build a doohickey to save Tom Hanks’ ass? If that was a room full of stoners, they would’ve created a 10-man hookah with a built in sound system in 30 seconds, flat. Sure, Tom Hanks and his fellow astronauts would have died, but at least with the hookah handy, everyone could have had a good laugh about it.
But every now and again, you feel like smoking pot out of something that didn’t come out of the trash, which is where head shops come in. Head shops, for those of you unfamiliar with the term, are places where you can buy things to do drugs with. At its most innocent, a head shop offers funny marijuana related t-shirts and knick-knacks, the kind of thing that most people would glance at and maybe give half a chuckle, but stoners find wildly hilarious, because DRUGS! HAHAHAHAHA!!!
On the other hand, you can also walk into a head shop and ask to buy a digital scale capable of accurately weighing packages of up to 50 kilos, which is like, what the fucking fuck, Scarface? Everyone knows that you break into a local high school chem-lab and steal one of those, because if you make a habit of buying digital scales in broad daylight, sooner or later someone is gonna drop a dime on you, and you’ll spend the remainder of your days playing Puff the Magic Dragon on the skin-flute in a federal pound-you-in-the-ass facility.
But as long as you’re not totally retarded and can keep your personal Breaking Bad at bay, a head shop is a good place to buy bowls, bongs, one hitters, and all of the other pot smoking accoutrements that you’ll find in any ordinary college dorm room or Willie Nelson’s kitchen.
But the first head shop I went to was kind of weird. Back in the 80’s, during the midst of Just Say No, anti-drug hysteria, every random 18 year old that came into a head shop was treated like Elliot Ness. Since my friends hadn’t turned 18 yet, I made the trip to the local head shop alone because the word was that if you were seen in the company of anyone who looked younger than Wilford Brimley, everyone had to show ID or no one was allowed to come inside.
Sure enough, I got there and received the following treatment:
Me: (tries door, finds it locked)
Me: Uh, are you open?
Voice: Are you 18?
Voice: Put your ID up against the door so I can see it.
Me: (places ID on door)
Voice: Are you affiliated with law enforcement in any way, or have you been enticed by law enforcement to approach this shop for any reason?
Me: What? No!
Voice: What do you want?
Me: I want to come in.
Voice: Do you want to come in to possibly buy something to smoke TOBACCO with?
Me: Uh, yeah, sure.
Seriously, that’s not an exaggeration. Head shops essentially sell plastic tubes. Yeah, you smoke pot through them, but they’re just plastic tubes. I know for a fucking fact that you can smoke pot out of an apple, but you don’t see federal agents burning down apple orchards because of it. But apparently if you sell plastic tubes, you are a Goddamn Menace to Society and need to be incarcerated with murderers and rapists until you Learn A Goddamn Lesson, that lesson being Don’t Fucking Sell Plastic Tubes to People!
(Think I’m joking? Tommy Chong, yes, of Cheech and Chong fame, was sentenced to 9 months in a federal pokey for selling plastic tubes online. The operation that nabbed him cost $12 million and required 2,000 officers to execute. Regardless of how you feel about drugs, it’s hard to argue that the War on Drugs isn’t incredibly retarded.)
So I got into the head shop, and was given the third degree: What do you want? Stop looking around! Here is what you can have! You put your tobacco in here, that’ll be $35.00, now get the fuck out of here and forget this place even exists.
It was like buying illicit pornography in the Vatican. (I imagine.)
A quick flash-forward in time: Yesterday, I started reading the book Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace. I’ve read it once before, and I can honestly say that it is the craziest, strangest, most entertaining book I have ever read. People watch a movie until they die, a band of wheelchair-bound assassins terrorize New England, years are no longer numbered, but named by sponsors, so that you might be born in the Year of the Whopper, and the whole thing takes place in either a tennis academy or a rehab clinic. Oh, and it is over 1,000 pages long, and uses wild, digressive footnotes like most people use commas. It’s insanely fun to read.
(Re-reading that, I realize that it kind of trivializes David Foster Wallace’s work. It doesn’t take long after you start reading Infinite Jest to realize that this is not a guy who writes books. This is a guy who writes literature. He’s really fucking good, and I highly recommend the book.)
Anyway, David Foster Wallace also happens to have lived in the town where I went to college, and so I laughed last night while reading a chapter about a pot smoker who buys his paraphernalia at a place I’m very familiar with, a place named Bogart’s.
Bogart’s was located on the second floor of what was a strangely nice-looking mini-mall kind of establishment. The fact that it looked nice was strange because it was essentially in the middle of a college town known for flagrant alcohol abuse, and everything in a many mile radius had acquired that vomit-colored cement look you can find in the worst parts of any major city. The mini-mall was wooden, had trees and shrubs and whatnot to liven it up, and it tells you everything you need to know about college-aged me when I tell you that the only two establishments in it that I remember are Bogart’s, a place to buy drug paraphernalia, and a Mexican Restaurant. Weed and eats, everything else may as well have been closed as far as I was concerned.
Bogart’s was different, I imagine, because it received less heat than a regular suburban head shop due simply to the fact that if you were to shut down bong sales in a college town of that size, the government would have been met with protests that made the Vietnam War protests look like a mild throat clearing in comparison.
I expected the usual id check/pat-down/polygraph reception when I first walked in, but was pleasantly surprised to find people my own age working there, and by working I mean softly chuckling behind a glass case full of various pot smoking gizmos while incense burned merrily away, barely covering the smell of skunk-weed. If I had been a traveling Visine salesman, I would have met my yearly quota on the spot.
This, as far as I was concerned, was everything a head shop should be. It was a hell of a lot more fun buying rolling papers when you didn’t have to act like you were smuggling state secrets out of the fucking Kremlin. And not only that, but nobody bothered to insult your intelligence with any of that “you put your tobacco here” bullshit. And you could talk to absolute, no-doubt-about-it, subject matter experts:
Me: Hey, does that bong have a carb or a slider?
Guy Who Looks Like A Muppet: It has a carb, but I wouldn’t recommend it. Usually I prefer a carb over a slider, but the carb on this is located at the front, too close to the bowl, and when you use it too much that small chunk of plastic in between can get deformed, and that’s just like, a fuckin’ hassle, man.
Me: Good to know, thanks.
Guy Who Looks Like A Muppet: No problem. If you want to talk about air displacement in a carb scenario versus a slider scenario, let me know. I’m writing a rather exhaustive paper on the subject.
Me: Oh, you’re a student?
Guy Who Looks Like A Muppet: No.
Guy Who Looks Like A Muppet: Do you have any chips, man?
Actually, although I remember a few memorable pot-related purchases at Bogart’s (and exactly how conspicuous you feel walking across campus with a 4 foot long plastic tube barely concealed in flimsy plastic), most of the time I was there to buy whippets.
Whippets, for those of you who don’t know, are small cartridges filled with nitrous oxide, otherwise known as laughing gas. It’s the same stuff you get at the dentist’s, although at the dentist they want to make sure that you don’t have too much fun, so they add air to the mixture and just for good measure, tear at your teeth with a shiny metal hook. The cartridges are undiluted and give you a much more “pronounced effect”, which is another way of saying it makes you “dribble like an idiot”.
Those of us with experience having done whippets will clamor for position when we learn that someone is about to try their first whippet. That’s because you get to see The Whippet Look, which is what a person displays about three seconds after they inhale a whippet for the first time: It looks like you were just told the world’s stupidest joke at the exact moment you lost control of all of your bodily functions. It’s hilarious.
As is doing whippets in general. You get light headed, everything is funny as shit, and you hear choppers. Seriously, sound becomes distorted and approaches you in punctuated waves: Bop-bop-bop-BOPBOPBOPBOPBOPBOPBOPBOP!!! It’s even better when listening to the right kind of music. (I recommend listening to the title cut off of Synchronicity by the Police.)
Of course there are some pitfalls associated with whippet use. From a previous post:
One time, I got so fucked up on whippets, I threw open the door, stumbled out into the hall and loudly announced to the shocked people who happened to be standing there, “Vortex! Vortex! Vortex!” A hand snaked out from the room and pulled me back in. We called days like that “Tuesdays”.
But on the whole, whippet use was relatively harmless, and even had the added advantage of being entirely legal. That didn’t mean that you could flagrantly abuse them in public or anything. Any self-respecting cop who saw you doing whippets in public would probably haul you down to the station on general principles alone and even if they eventually had to turn you loose, you’d probably miss out on happy hour, so fuck that.
But Bogart’s had you covered in that area too because they had the world’s only Whippet Elevator. Since they were located on the second floor, and since the Americans With Disabilities Act had been passed, an elevator had to be provided for the general public. So what would happen is you’d go to Bogart’s, buy a bunch of whippets, and then quickly do one in the elevator on the way down. Right as the whippets would kick in, the doors would open, and all sorts of hilarious hijinks would ensue, like falling into bushes.
Even funnier was taking the elevator up to the second floor, because more often than not the doors would open to reveal a couple of people with shit-eating grins on their faces, giggling and staggering around. “Whippets!” you’d say, and offer them a high five before they fell into the azaleas.
One time, a good friend of mine and I went into Bogart’s to buy some whippets only to encounter a clerk so whacked out of her head on acid that it was like an Abbot and Costello routine as performed at Hunter S. Thompson’s house.
We walked in to find the store empty except for this blond, long haired girl who was standing behind the register, twirling in circles, flapping her hands crazily, and singing this demented, loopy tune over and over again. We stood directly in front of her for at least 30 seconds before the humor of the situation got the better of us and we just broke down laughing.
This still didn’t get her attention, so we had to get a little more aggressive.
Me: Uhh, excuse me?
Girl: OH! Hiiiiiiiii!
Friend: Yeah, no kidding.
Me: We need to buy some whippets.
Girl: Oh. (resumes twirling) LALALALALALA!!!
Friend: No, no, wait! We need to buy some whippets FROM YOU.
Girl: Oh no!
Me: It’s ok, they’re right over there. We need two of those boxes.
Girl: Ok! (twirling ensues) LALALALALA!!!
Friend: Oh, for the love of…
(5 minutes passes while we direct her in the incredibly difficult task of moving two small boxes about 4 feet in total.)
Me: All right! There you go!
Girl: Yay! (twirls) LALALALA!!!
Friend: Do you, uh… Do you want some money for that?
If the entire thing wouldn’t have been so fucking hilarious, we probably would’ve just left without paying, but we decided to be honest and tried guiding her through ringing up our purchase. At one point, her register declared that we owed $4,000, and the next moment she’d just taken all of the paper money out and was trying to give it to us. We finally just made change for ourselves, had her put the rest of the money away, and bid our farewells. She was happily twirling away as we left, “LALALALALALA!” Outside the door, we collapsed into a 5 minute giggle-fit.
It has been many years since I’ve had the need to go into a head shop, and that’s probably for the best. If I saw someone who looked like me walk into a head shop, the first word that would spring to mind would be “narc!” and really, I’d hate to harsh anyone’s buzz while they were at work, you know? If I really feel the need to recapture my youth, I’ll just fling myself into some bushes.