I have been homeless before, so I was kind of relieved. And I have slept in worse places than that. After two days of intense work, we had a livable house. We sat back, smoked one of the last few joints and talked about money.
Then I started working at Ernie’s Country Store in Corvallis, Oregon. I must have said the right things, presented well, whatever. I was working my first honest job in years.
Gradually, over a period of weeks, I met the neighborhood folk. Even some of the “bad kids.” This guy – Cal, they called him – was always asking me if I knew where I could get any weed. Maybe it was the shoulder-length ponytail that I had, who knows.
I used to put him off with the truth. I didn’t have any connections in Oregon. Was that a good thing? I didn’t think so even though I really wanted to live a normal life yet, really, I had no idea what a normal life was.
Deb and Cora, Ernie’s daughters who worked in the store, were always chatting me up. They were both single but I wasn’t. Well, that’s a lie. I was single, even though I lived with Heather. I just didn’t know it yet. Cross-eyed lovers are always the last to know.
So, to cut to the chase, and there is always a chase, when Ernie wasn’t around and the store was quiet, Deb and Cora would burn a bone with me. It was their stuff and I saw no reason to say no. Back in the day, when you smoked a bone with someone, it was like a bond of trust was being formed. To me, that is, but I was always a bit naïve.
The sisters and I talked a bit and I revealed more about myself than I should have. But I thought it would be okay. The store was a family business, between the daughters, Deb and Cora, and the commandant, Ernie. The girls liked me as a person, and Ernie thought I was a good worker, so I felt my position was safe.
On the other side of my life, Paul, our gay neighbor, took us to a party and we fit in well; all hippies, smoking and tripping. I had just been paid so I bought one hundred hits of acid for really short money and Heather and I thought we could make a little cash on the side.
One day, when Cal came in the store, I asked him if he was interested in any acid. He said that he had heard it was good, and he smoked a lot, so he bought ten hits from me. I told him that, even though the tabs looked tiny, they were strong and he should only take one at a time. I thought he would pay attention to my warning.
A week or so passed and I was getting high with Cora and I revealed that I was a fugitive from another state for selling marijuana. I thought it would be okay. I mean, we were smoking together. We went back to work and I caught a strange vibe from her as we closed up. Paranoia is real when they’re out to get you. Small town folks see things differently than hard-core city folks.
The next day I went to work and there was Cora, Deb, & Ernie all waiting for me. Ernie pulled me aside and told me that something had come up and he was going to let me go. I looked at Cora. She looked away. She would not meet my eyes.
Ernie took out an envelope and handed it to me. Told me that it was pay for the last week I worked and two weeks severance pay. I asked Ernie about the quality of my work and he told me that it wasn’t my work that was the problem. He just felt it would be better if we separated our ways.
Debbie came over with a box of food and handed it to me. She told me there was one more box. I carried that box into my truck and came back for the other box. Cora handed it to me and her eyes were all wet but they weren’t spilling. I knew what this was about.
I opened the door to my pickup, got in and drove away without looking back.
A few weeks later I ran into Debbie when I was out taking care of business. She asked me what I was doing and I told her that Heather and I were moving into the city.
“Oh,” was what she said. She asked me if I had heard about Cal.
I said that I hadn’t heard about anyone from Corvallis since I left the store. She looked at me directly in the eye.
Debbie said that someone had sold Cal a batch of bad acid and he was in the state psychiatric hospital. They didn’t think he would ever get back from where his mind was. I looked at her and I said, “Jesus, that’s too bad. I hope he gets better.”
Debbie said, “She wished they knew where he got it from. That would settle all their minds.” Her eyes looked at me hard.
I told her that I’m just a smoker. I didn’t say anything else, just got into my truck and drove away. I was glad that we were moving into the city. I figured it would be good to change my last name too once we got there.
I felt a little sick. I remembered one time that I shot four hits of acid and was gone for three days. I didn’t think I was ever going to come down. But I did. Life is hard. I never forgot Cal. It’s been 34 years and I still remember. I never sold acid again.