Tom’s Tall Tales: It Wasn’t Always Fun

Tom's Tall Tales: It Wasn't Always Fun

Going to college during the late 1960s was an interesting experience. My high school was an all male Catholic student body of about 250 kids. My local university had about 22,000 students and 12,000 of them were women. Once I got over the culture shock, it was like living in Disneyland. I quickly found out that meeting women was best accomplished at parties. The campus was a great place to scout hot looking women like Barbie Benton but not for meeting them as it took a lot of work compared to a party environment.  (Barbie was Hugh Hefner’s girlfriend at the time in case you didn’t know). Back then, house parties happened all the time. My two old high school stoner pals, Les and Brian, had also enrolled locally and we would check out a string of parties whenever we liked. One of the nice things about large schools like UCLA is the access you have to several parties every day of the week if you wanted. Somebody at school was always throwing one somewhere. 

 

One Sunday evening, we ended up in West Los Angeles at a small house party. Stoner types generally didn’t drink alcohol at that time so it was a pretty quiet night and everyone had classes the next day. I had brought the only weed to the party and not very much. It was in a 35 millimeter film can because cellphones hadn’t been invented yet. They hold about 5 grams if you stuffed it tight. We all just sat around on the carpet, smoked weed, and listened to my stoner pal, Les, fiddle with his acoustic guitar. None of the women there seemed too impressed with his strumming so Les decides he wants to leave. I am bored to tears by this point and down to a couple of grams so I am glad to go. Les drove and was parked across the narrow residential street. He was driving a pale yellow 1965 Mustang Fastback. 4 barrel V-8 engine. Automatic transmission because it used to be his mom’s car. Black bucket seats. The three of us climbed into the car around midnight. It was cold that night and the carbureted motors back then needed a lengthy warm up period. If you didn’t warm them up enough, they could misfire and easily stall. While we sit there idling, a Los Angeles patrol car slowly cruises by us. The two cops in it gave us some hard looks and we could tell we were about to get rousted. Sure enough, the cops use the next driveway to turn around. Les is watching all this in his rear view mirror, of course, and gives Brian and me a heads up that we’re about to get shook down.

 

 

Luckily, I was sitting shotgun and was able to take advantage of a common design feature of 1960s American cars. Cars used to have what were called vent windows. All cars had small triangular shaped pieces of glass in the front windows that could be swung open to let in a small amount of outside air. The vents were both open while we were waiting for the motor to warm up because Les and I were smoking cigarettes. As the cops were executing a 2 point U turn behind us, I fished the film can out of my pocket and dropped it out the vent window into the gutter. Les calmly put the Mustang in gear and carefully starts to enter the roadway. We got about 10 feet into the roadway before the Christmas tree lights came on and Les stopped the car. The two cops could see that we were just college kids from the local university when they first eyeballed us but this was 1968 and it was the Vietnam era of confrontation between cops and students. They didn’t like our long hair or politics and we didn’t like or trust them either. In the 1960s, if you weren’t on the LAPD’s socially approved list, you were going to be jacked around by the cops if you ever had the misfortune to have to deal with them. Astoundingly, it was just an accepted fact of life back then when your rights got trampled by the cops. College students, along with blacks, Latinos, and gays weren’t on the approved list so we were ordered out of the car before any questions were asked. We were then separated, frisked, and interrogated by one cop while the other searched the car. Then one of the cops must have found my film canister because I was handcuffed and placed in the squad car. I hadn’t been asked about weed and for sure nobody else would volunteer anything about it. Then my two white friends were released by the two white cops. Make what you will of that fact. 

 

I was taken to the lockup in West LA and spent the night in the drunk tank. My cell mate was a guy who had wrapped his Cadillac around a telephone pole. From the cut and fine cloth of his tailored suit, I could tell that he was probably a well to do businessman. He was about my dad’s age and I told him what happened but there was no way I was going to call my parents about this. I had zero experience with being arrested at that point in my young life. My parents knew what it was like to be arrested and sent to prison though. They had to live in a U.S. government concentration camp during World War II but it was something they never talked about to me until the late 1980s. My plan was to just sit tight and go with the flow which isn’t much of a plan. Around 8am after a horrible breakfast, a cop in a rumpled suit who looked like Colombo came looking for me. He acted really upset with me and told me to shut the fuck up and don’t say even one word while he scolded me for smoking weed. The film can was found in the gutter and not in my pocket. I just knew that my pals didn’t rat me out and I certainly never mentioned anything about marijuana. It would have been hard to prove that it was mine and he knew it. After he finished trying to shame me by saying that Asian kids didn’t do these kinds of things, he ordered my release. I stepped onto the sidewalk a free man on a beautiful Southern California winter day. Surviving a huge crisis made me appreciate the brilliant blue sky and cool sea breeze more than usual. The frat house where I was living was about 4 miles away but I walked back because it was so nice outside. My two pals were shocked but elated to see me. Back then, possessing two grams of weed was still a serious crime. They thought I was going up the river and had kept my arrest secret from everyone else. While relating to them what had happened at the cop station, I went to my stash and started rolling some fat ones to take to campus. I had just picked up a brick of some decent stuff from friends down by San Diego the night before this fiasco. I had promised to smoke out some of my classmates on campus and now I was late. At least I had a good excuse.

 

– Sonoma Tom

 

 

Welcome to Tom’s Tall Tales

Welcome to Tom's Tall Tales

In the latter half of the 20th Century, marijuana started to go mainstream. I was in high school when Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters rolled their bus through Los Angeles for one of their famous parties. They rented out the Olympic Auditorium and some of the local news people covered the happening. One local station aired a long segment depicting the personalities involved. One of the guys who was interviewed was smoking a joint while extolling the virtues of good weed. I forget what his exact words were but what I vividly remember was how much fun he and his friends were having. I thought that I would like to try some.

Growing up middle class with Catholic schoolmates, nobody in my immediate circle had any idea where to get any but I had a part time job in downtown LA. I had been working in the garment district for the past couple of years after school and had gotten to know my co-workers who were at least 10 years older than me. Cleveland was a young black man in his 20s from Mississippi and he was totally freaked out when I asked him if he knew where I could get some. I got the same reaction from Irwin, a grizzled older black man. They both stonewalled me and refused to talk to me which really upset me. After two days of being treated like a leper, I cornered Irwin and demanded to know why he was avoiding me. I told him what I had seen on TV and said I just wanted to see for myself if it was as fun as it looked. Irwin looked at me as if I was mentally deficient and had to carefully explain to me that marijuana was illegal and could result in a lot of prison time. He and Cleveland were just trying to protect themselves from some dumb naive 15 year old kid. But I was relentless and convinced Irwin that I was not a snitch so he told me that he would look into it for me.

The next day, he told me to check with Big Bob. Big Bob was one of the garment factory’s truck drivers. He was a large very fit looking black man who came by once a day to load and unload garments. Since it was one of my duties to assist him at the loading dock, it was easy to make my request to him in private. While we were loading the box truck, I asked him about scoring some weed. He gave me his address and told me to come by after work. I could hardly wait for work to end that day so I could drive to his place in South Central LA. This was two years before the Watts riots but I remember a pretty intense police presence in that area compared to my neighborhood just 10 miles down the freeway. LAPD squad cars were everywhere on the main thoroughfares just cruising around looking for trouble.

Bob lived in a tidy cottage on a quiet street.  As I knocked on his door, I could hear some cool sounding jazz music. It looked like Bob had been home for awhile. He was flaked out on his couch with his girlfriend. He was in a real mellow friendly mood. He was definitely stoned. I spotted a smoldering roach in his ashtray and noted his bloodshot eyes. It was the first time I had seen anybody high on weed other than the Pranksters on TV. At the time, I thought that maybe I shouldn’t smoke any weed until I am parked for the night so I declined puffing any at that moment. We chatted about work for a few minutes before I asked about purchasing some. Bob told me to go to his bedroom and look for a shoebox under his bed. The box was filled with a partially dismantled brick of Mexican. It then dawned on me that I had absolutely no idea how much I wanted to buy and at what cost so I asked Bob for guidance. Bob was too busy smooching with his girlfriend so he said to just take what I need and leave some money. I smoked cigarettes at the time so I removed the cellophane wrapper from a pack of Marlboros and stuffed it with a mixture of buds and shake. For this I left $5 in his shoebox.

In 1965, nobody differentiated between shake and buds. It was all just marijuana. About the only thing readily agreed upon in the mid sixties was that seeds and stems were to be discarded. Nobody was a Strain Snob….yet. I put my little bag of weed in my pocket, profusely thanked Bob and went home. The next day, I proudly announced to my two best friends at school that I scored some weed. One of them lived with a grandparent who traveled a lot and we could smoke there by ourselves that weekend. We agreed to meet there Saturday morning to fire up. When the weekend arrived, I drove out to Santa Monica, a beach city where my friend lived. Back then, you could drive from the eastern suburbs of LA to the beach in less than 45 minutes. Today, it takes at least 2 hours. When I got there we holed up in the bedroom to inspect the goods. It was then that we found out no one knew how to roll a cigarette. The three of us tried and failed rolling the ZigZags. I refused to let this lack of a skill to stop us though. I had the bright idea to empty out a Marlboro and drop crumbs of weed into the cylinder. It was slow tedious work but I was able to make three fat joints this way. I lit one up and was immediately impressed with the taste and scent. It was really a pleasant experience. After about 3 good puffs, we all got high for the first time and it was better than we expected. Conversation, music, and food took on whole new dimensions and sensations. I finally understood why the Pranksters loved weed. In the next few years, millions of other young Americans “turned on” too and we’ve been mostly having fun ever since.