High tea with Carlton Milhouse: Groundhog Day retrospective

High Tea with Carlton Milhouse 6 February 2021

In Pennsylvania they have Punxsutawney Phil. In neighboring Ohio there is Buckeye Chuck. I’m not actually certain if the ritual is observed there, but if there is Groundhog Day in Canada I rather imagine that there is some such moniker as Glace Bay Gord or Winnipeg Wilf. Maybe it’s Woodchuck Day in Canada, and like their Thanksgiving it is likely observed six weeks apart from our own. Given the length of Canadian winters I would reckon their Groundhog/Woodchuck Day to land somewhere around 16 March. Any interested Canadians are invited to share their insights on this topic in the comment section below. You don’t have to be an actual Canadian; an alleged Canadian will do. Really anyone, except Justin Bieber or Ryan Reynolds.

Well, we have waxed Canadian for quite long enough I should think. Groundhog Day is an American phenomenon which has been, by the silent hand of some unnamed grace, legitimized by it’s printed recognition in most common calendars. In the pantheon of meaningless symbolism that comprises the American holiday calendar Groundhog Day has been elevated to rock star status as a result of the 1993 film of the same name. For most of us within a certain age bracket we find that the film and the day itself are forever and inextricably linked in our hearts and minds. It is for this very reason that the Ale 81 Inn and Milhouse Farms chose Groundhog Day for the premiere of our Chairman’s Choice. That, and the Hilltop Groundhog Lasagna Festival. I mean come on…. fresh, roadkill groundhog and lasagna? What self respecting stoner could resist this?

It saddens me greatly to share this news, but it turns out that this decision was taken without the benefit of all relevant data. Though it was hardly our intention at the outset, we have since come to learn that there is rather a lot more involved in Groundhog Day than any of us knew. In a landscape where truth has taken heavy casualties we will proceed with some caution from here. We will attempt to be sensitive to a populace which may have been rendered too vulnerable to fully absorb these shocking revelations. If the fear and tumult of the past twelve months has left you feeling more easily triggered than normal then my advice would be that you stop here. Should you choose to proceed, do so at your own peril.

The Hilltop Groundhog Lasagna Festival went on as planned, despite a weekend winter storm and the chill and bitter winds that followed in it’s wake. The hearty citizens of neighborhoods like Wiltshire Heights, Holly Hill, Briggsdale, and lest we forget our brethren from north of route 40, even Valleyview were represented. From aging and weathered Anchor-Hocking crockery to the more modest $2 foil pan from Dollar General, they came all with their gourmet inspired interpretations of one of the world’s most beloved rodent-themed pasta dishes. The parade, postponed to Monday for inclement weather, was an abbreviated affair conducted with a modest fleet of pickup trucks led by a garbage truck of a private sanitation firm. The garbage truck with yellow caution lights flashing proceeded at the front as a sort of terrestrial icebreaker, leaving a passable set of ruts in the frozen slush for the parade to follow. Other trucks, vans and popup tents ringed the Confederate Cemetery, the steam from their many chafing pans escaping to form a cloud interspersed with liberal amounts of cannabis fume. It is said that there may have been Irish coffee and other warming beverages on offer in some of those tents. I personally did not get the chance to try it myself, but there was talk of a “Cocoa Captain”: a hot cocoa spiked with Captain Morgan’s Spiced Rum. It can fairly be said that what the residents of the Hilltop may lack in sophistication they more than make up for in inventiveness.

After the official crowning of Karen Cox-Zucker as the 2021 Groundhog Lasagna Queen the top prize lasagna was announced. This year’s prize winner was a dark horse in the race, Mr. Otis “Whitey” Cruikshank of North Wheatland Avenue. Mr. Cruikshank is the proud recipient of a year’s supply of Mountain Dew and Slim Jims, redeemable at the BP station on the corner of Hague and Sullivant Avenues. In glee of his victory Whitey was inspired to don an adult sized groundhog suit and dance about the crowd, exhorting them to greater celebration of that Groundhog Day magic. Though his intentions were completely benign, the results were counterproductive. The home made suit animated by his unsteady movements bore more of a resemblance to a brown bear with Tourette’s Syndrome and really only served to frighten the young children. What public event isn’t complete without shrieking infants?

As daylight waned on Monday evening the citizens of Hilltop began to make ready for the Groundhog Day Eve vigil. Before everything was broken down and the crowd began to disperse I had an announcement to share. I was acutely aware that this announcement would be a complete buzzkill, so I held it back for as long as possible. I did not have the heart to break the merriment of the day with this sad news, but I realized that it had to be done. Better to save it for the end.

” Ladies and gentlemen, could I have your attention for just a moment? I have an announcement to make before everything wraps up here. I am… I am afraid that I have a bit of sad news to share. I didn’t want to dampen the occasion before now, but this has to be told.” A slow murmur grew and then a hush fell over the crowd. “Tomorrow is indeed Groundhog Day and nothing will change that. Make no mistake: your efforts here are profoundly appreciated. Despite this, however, there will be no groundhog tomorrow morning.”

I paused at this point, thinking that this would be met with a sudden outburst of shock and disbelief, perhaps even howls of derision. Instead there were only muted groans of disappointment. I had expected that surely one person would cry out “Why?”, but that did not happen. It was a reaction of a populace who has come to expect that no matter what they do there will be some nameless, faceless prick to thwart their desires. There is no explanation to be expected, only blind compliance. And so they part in sullen silence, scheming how they might circumvent yet another round of ill informed and baseless regulations foisted upon them. As more and more rules are added to the game they have simply opted out of playing altogether. This has become a common theme nationally with a strong and surly undercurrent. Despots dance as the alternative economy grows under their noses and the people see that the state is not a partner in prosperity, rather it is a parasite riding upon it.

The distribution of The Chairman’s Choice continues apace, despite being cheated of the inaugural event. In what follows here you will learn that this theft occurred not as a result of any government intervention, rather it comes as a result of the groundhog likewise deciding to gather up it’s toys and go home. They have decided that they don’t want to play any more. I know this because they told me in a clandestine meeting on Sunday 31 January. I warned you that these revelations might be shocking.

In preparation for our premiere I sought out the local groundhog population for coordination. To begin it should be stated that the Groundhog Day celebration is not the result of various and random woodchucks deciding to poke their heads out of their burrows at some appointed hour to amuse their fellow mammals. There is instead an extensive Groundhog Guild operating beneath our feet on a daily basis. Those which you may see in the recording of events in Punxsutawney and elsewhere are not volunteers. Instead they are the result of a sort of subterranean college of cardinals convening on an annual basis. The groundhogs who appear on that most blessed of days do so as a result of having been selected by their peers. I have learned that this is in fact an ancient tradition among their species and it has NOTHING to do with meteorological prognostications. I could continue to recount this tale for all of you, but I should think it better that you have it as a transcript of the original tale as related to me by the Hilltop steward of NAGG (North American Groundhog Guild), one Westgate Wally. It should be noted that this does not necessarily reflect the personal views of Westgate Wally, rather it is an approved statement emanating from NAGG’s central committee. What follows here is an abridged version of my brief conversation with Wally and then, in italics, the official NAGG statement:

(on a park bench, northwest corner of Westgate Park, Sunday 31 Jan. 2021)

” Jee-e-e-sus! Could ya picked a better day Carlton? I’m freezing my fuckin’ tail off here!”

“Uh, yeah… sorry about that Wally. As a token of our appreciation for coming out to meet us like this here is a pound of The Presidential Cheese…..”

“A pound!? Really? Where the fuck you think I’m gonna carry that, huh? You think I’m a Kangaroo… like I got a pouch or somethin’?”

“Well…uh, I could maybe carry it back to the burrow for you?”

“Yeah? You’re fuckin’ A right you’re gonna carry that back to the burrow. So where’s Ford, huh? You’re saying we like there was more than one of ya’s, but all I see is you. How’s come Ford didn’t show up, huh?”

“Ah, Ford. Yes. Ford sends his regards, but he is currently in a state of exile I’m afraid.”

“Uh-huh. Gone manic again, has he?”

“Well, you could say that, I suppose…”

” I gotchas, brother. You don’t have to say no more. Oo-kay… we got some business here, right?”

“Yes. Yes we do. We wanted to have the ceremony set up around the Confederate Cemetery, but for the official appearance we were wondering if you had a tunnel opening somewhere inside the wall?”

“Ya know what Carlton? I think you been samplin’ too much of the product ’cause you don’t have any idea what the fuck is really goin’ on. You think that Punxsutawney Phil is like North Pole Santa and all the rest of us…me, Buckeye Chuck, Strongsville Steve, Waverly Wilma, all of us… that we’re just like shopping mall Santas that you can rent for a few hours on Saturday morning. I mean…DAMN! Fuckin’ humans. You’re garbage is top rate man, but all the fuckin’ drama! You know what I’m sayin’? Not you personally Carlton. We’re cool. Just… I dunno man. It’s just all gone wrong somewhere, ya know?”

“Well, I guess I never thought of it from that perspective Wally. I mean, I feel like maybe I owe you some kind of an apology, but I’m still not really sure what it is that you’re trying to say.”

“Yeah. Look Carlton… this ain’t all coming from me, okay? There’s some things you need to know. It’s time that you and all your kind finally learn the truth.”

“The truth? The truth about what?”

“Fuck! Okay, here it is kid. You ever heard of a group called NAGG?”

“The National Organization of Women?”

“Nah, not those cunts! NAGG… N A G G. Nag-guh!”

“Uh, no.”

“Yeah? Well ya just did. North American Groundhog Guild. That includes ALL North American groundhogs and the Walla Walla Woodchucks sub-chapter. Our legal department makes us put that last bit in. Any-hoo…take me for an example, huh? Me and my furbearers have been crawlin’ around this patch since before the Johnny Rebs were picking ticks off each other over yonder in Camp Chase. We were here when the French trappers passed through. All the way back to before the white man. No offense!”

“Oh, none taken my friend. One tribe’s savagery is as good as another’s.”

“Indeed. Thank you Carlton. You have provided me the perfect segue to the statement.”

“The statement? What statement?”

“THE statement, dumbass! From NAGG!”

“The North American….”

“That’s right! Spit it out… guh- guh- guh- Groundhog Guild!”

“Okay. Their official statement. Now?”

“Yes. Ya ready?”

“Can I blaze up first?”

“<sigh> Sure, g’ ‘head.”

“Ok. That’s better. Go ahead.”

“Ya sure?”

“Yeah. Go.”

Annual statement of NAGG policy advisory board January 2021

As we enter our second decade of the twenty-first century we are at a crossroads. We look back at our long history, a history of long traditions, of our culture and customs. And we look forward. Forward is always unknown, but until now forward has always included a light somewhere in the distance. Somewhere on the edge of the horizon there has always been that dim glow, but this glow has dimmed to a mere ember. We have no hope that it should not be extinguished.

In a time before the Iroquois descended from the Laurentian Plain; before Comanche had lain with Spaniards; before the Mayans had folded their tents and vanished into the jungle, there came an awful winter. A winter years long when darkness painted the sky. We shivered in our burrows as food grew scarce. This famine killed many of our number and of the native peoples of this land. As conditions reached desperation many of our brethren ventured forth in the quest for sustenance. The native peoples were starving too and haunted the entrances of our vast network to take our flesh for their own sustenance. One by one we were massacred until we were at the gates of extinction.

Finally a fair wind breathed across the land. The snows abated and life slowly returned to our fields and forests. It was in commemoration of these dark times that an agreement was forged between the groundhog and the red man: that every year in mid winter we would sacrifice one of our own to the red man as a testament of faith to this agreement. This was our custom for hundreds upon hundreds of years. Then came the white man.

As we witnessed the genocide of the red man this custom was slowly abandoned, replaced in symbolism by only appearing at our burrow openings in mid winter. This is how we arrived at the white man’s tradition of Groundhog Day. Groundhog Day is the white man’s tradition; it is not our tradition, but only a shadow of our suffering long past. With the exception of more remote areas the white man’s palate has lost the taste for Groundhog flesh. We have, sometimes with reluctance, continued to humor this tradition in exchange for the relative safety accorded to us under the white man’s rule. Times are changing and there is an ill wind upon our fair land.

We have been concerned for some time. We have observed crimes against nature. They remove trees to create “lawns”. Then upon these lawns they pour fertilizer and vile chemicals to soak the earth. These make the weeds grow and for four to five months a year they ritualistically cut the weeds, bag their clippings and have them hauled away to “landfills”. They are hauled by rumbling behemoths they dub “garbage trucks”, frightful, multi wheeled carriages with a house of horror laden upon their backs. Many a groundhog has given the last full measure before these monsters. To these and lesser vessels our numbers are decimated every year and it keeps getting worse. Their wheeled metal boxes are everywhere, in every color, shape and size imaginable. And they are actually working on something called “self driving cars”. We are not certain what this actually means, but we are pretty certain that it will not be good for us. The carnage far exceeds anything we suffered in our blood sacrifice to the red man.

Still we have played along with their annual charade. Every year there are a select few of us who are honored by the vote of our peers to rise above ground at dawn on a mid winter morning. Those brave few have endured on our account the horrors of television crew lights, the madding crowds, the clutching hands and toddlers with snotty noses frozen in the cold. And for what? A cameo appearance with Bill Murray? A footnote one day of the year on their calendars? Clever tongue twisters?

My friends the urban back lots; the back alleyways; utility right of ways along major roads, all of these have had a good run for us. We have managed to adapt and thrive, but that tide is turning. It is time for us to return to the wooded lot; the fence lines of grain fields; the irrigation ditches, to our homes of old. Our scouts have remained diligent. The reports of human activities in the past nine months alone are enough to make the case on their own merit: it is time we cut bait on these motherfuckers.

This year on February 2nd remain in your burrows. It’s not safe out there. If you must go out you may only do so between the hours of 6:00 AM and 6:00 PM. If you must go out wear a diaper. There is no telling what those depraved fuckers will try to stick up your ass. Finally, any groundhog participating in the human celebration of Groundhog Day will be PERMANENTLY expelled from NAGG with no opportunity for reinstatement. These are stringent measures, but we are in dangerous times. Its completely necessary. TRUST ME.

You were warned. Now you know the truth about Groundhog Day. If you were paying close attention you may have discerned a few other truths.

Well friends that is all for this High Tea. Until next time this is Carlton Milhouse, your botanist, saying Keep Calm and Blaze On.

Happy 420…20…20!

It is indeed 420. 4/20/2020, to be exact! We’d had hope that this would be a much larger celebration this year. Thirty days of 420 only comes around once! Alas, it is not to be and so we must celebrate together while we’re all apart. Our resident botanist, Carlton Milhouse, has composed some 420 thoughts for us this year. These are after the fashion of  T’was the night before Christmas. Carlton hopes you all enjoy it and all of us here at the Ale 81 Inn wish the very happiest of 420s to everyone!


 

T’was the eve of 420

T’was the eve of 420 and all through the land

Not a head shop was selling, for this act had been banned

The storefronts were shuttered by some governor’s plan

due to some virus; they say it came from Wuhan

The people were chastised and sent to their room

to prevent what was certain imminent doom

Like sheep they all went and meekly obeyed,

away to their homes and there they then stayed

It will be for a month, certainly no more than two,

or until we determine what the hell we’re to do

Now bring on that Fauci and that scarf lady too

We’re led to believe that they might have a clue,

but when one is a hammer then all is a nail

and this is where experts most often fail

For billions of dollars we bought Red China’s shill

We’re all still paying, but I doubt he ever will

With a sickening thud we have screeched to a halt

while media pundits seek to find fault

A banquet for jackals and vultures to dine

They don’t care about shutdowns, they’ll manage just fine

Now Wuhan! Now Corona! Now Covid 19!

Now shut it down! Shut it down! Mass quarantine

When government shuts down it’s the end of the world

Now that it’s our turn? Your true colors are unfurled

The networks persist in their daily charade,

never missing a chance for some point to be made

that has nothing to do with the crisis at hand,

almost as if they had this all planned

And oh! How the spending! Let’s break the bank

so when this is all over we’ll have you to thank

for tiding us over with this little loan

for this time off from work (through no fault of our own)

There are still special favors in the money they’ve spent

Your little tidbit is to buy your consent

The airlines and bankers again are in line

and just like the last time they’ll make out just fine

All that debt will be added to the burden we pay,

but somehow the fat cats will all skate away

Each relief package tied up with a bow

with motives as pure as the wind driven snow

So the stem of this pipe I hold tight in my teeth,

as the smoke encircles my head like a wreath,

because all papers are gone; there are none to be had

Since the head shops are all closed, it’s really quite sad

That last book of Zig-Zags was really quite dear

between rolls of Charmin for wiping my rear

Now we’ll scrimp and we’ll forage for each vital need,

all the while praying we don’t run out of weed

If things grow too desperate it wouldn’t be wrong

to smoke up your bud in a green apple bong

Still despite all of this madness and disarray

Snoop Dogg still came with his magical sleigh

So look in your yard, you may find something there

Because he didn’t make contact, he took special care

But I heard him exclaim, ere he flew out of sight

I’ll see ya’ll next year, ’cause this shit ain’t right!

 

Joe, we hardly knew you

GotGreen

Disclaimer:  the following is not editorial sponsored by the Ale 81 Inn. It is an independent consultation provided to the Biden 2020 Campaign by our field correspondent, Mr. Ford Wenty


 

Good day America. I am Ford Wenty and today I would like to address you not as the humble field correspondent of the Ale 81 Inn. As you can see above they’ve already thrown me under the bus. That’s fine. I get it. It’s just business. No, today I address all of you, but I address the Biden campaign specifically. Not as correspondent, not as news. Today I will do what the fraudcast networks do: I will act as a political consultant. The difference of course being that I bother to make the distinction.

Alright, let’s get right down to it, shall we? Joe….ah! Where do I start. Your campaign is a living, breathing dumpster fire. It’s ugly. Not Michael Dukakis kind of ugly. No, this is something more akin to watching a troupe of dwarfs with diarrhea performing a waltz on stilts. It’s bad Joe, there’s no sugar coating it, okay?

Since we’re only speaking in the frankest of terms I have a few things I want to make clear to you and to America at large. First of all, in the annals of congressional history you will always rank as the most beloved dumbass. You have been the consummate politician: you’ve never held a real job, you’ll say anything and often at the wrong time. Your favorite sandwich is known to all: your own size twelve shoe, uncooked with just a dash of contrition.  You’ve had us all fooled that you’re that old style Irish Catholic. Turns out Father Morey disagrees. Joe you embody all of the stale, moribund rot that your party has served for the past fifty years. In any other set of circumstances you would be the PERFECT nominee. Just the kind of poodle that a globalist establishment could love. But I’ll tell you what, Kemo Sabe. Some of the most successful species on this planet eat their own. The DNC is no exception.

Hell, we’ve all known for years that you were that creepy, touchy kind of guy. As long as you were a useful tool that was just O-Kay. They’ve already trotted that one out on you Joe. You’ve handled it deftly, but you think they are going to let it go? We know the donor class got their money behind you early because out of a field of twenty lunatics you were, if not a safe bet, the only thing close to it. But now you’re toxic, Joe. You and that brat kid of yours. They won’t throw you under the bus for any of that Ukraine or China business. They don’t want anybody looking any closer at that. No, they’ll choose from a host of other things with which to sink you. Lord knows you’ve given them a wealth of material.

So here is how it all shakes out, old Joe. You only have two options left. You can hang it up and slither back to Scranton, lick your wounds and try to forget, or….

It’s the fourth quarter Joe. There are no time outs, you’re 75 yards from the end zone, time is running out. Close your eyes Joe. Imagine you are Aaron Rogers, heaving that miraculous hail mary touchdown pass. It’s come to that Joe. You let AOC and her tribe throw in with Crazy Bernie. Let them go on about the Green New Deal. You can blow it away with your own New GREEN Deal: Biden 2020 for National Marijuana Legalization. It’s really the only play you have left Joe. You have my permission to use the image above to help launch the campaign. And if you need other assistance, please do not hesitate to call someone else.

 

 

 

 

My Pinball Wizard

a reflection shared from our resident Botanist, Carlton Milhouse


 

It’s been a good harvest this year. Throughout the summer months my days were consumed with my herbalogic enterprises, allowing little time for anything else. As with any fruitful venture in life it is only after reaping the reward that we step back to contemplate what we have done. That is if we ponder it at all, which I’ll admit I often don’t.

In high summer (no, not that kind of high) the days are long and filled with labor from dawn to sometimes well after dark. One of the few things that help me to endure these rigors is music. I entered this season with a heightened awareness for the monumental anniversary this year has marked. My playlists have been liberally seasoned with those iconic releases of fifty years ago. Led Zeppelin 1, Abbey Road, In the Court of the Crimson King…. these only scratch the surface. All of these and more have always been in my repertoire, but if only for nostalgic reasons, they have enjoyed a renewed appreciation. Now, as we fast approach 2019 in the rear view mirror, I would like to share some reflections spurred by another of that epochal class of 1969: The Who’s Tommy.

Earlier this year I made a trip to Cleveland’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with our very own Celeste Wilde. It was actually my first trip there. I have to say that on the whole it was a pretty cool place, but honestly I didn’t come away completely “wowed” by it. Maybe it’s Cleveland, maybe it’s me, but for any who have been to Cleveland lately you’ll have to agree: Cleveland is not the rock and roll town it used to be. Within it’s steel and glass frame on the shores of Lake Erie the Hall of Fame does it’s best to replicate at least some of that. Alright now, I’m not trying to dis the place. If you’ve not been and you like rock music I encourage you to visit, but make it a day trip if you can. There is no place I will recommend staying in Cleveland.

The highlight of this trip was discovered nestled within the bosom of The Who exhibit. Wandering about we stumbled upon a darkened nook where there stood two items. First there was a token dispenser, much like one might see in any arcade. It was equipped with an optic register to read the wristband they issue with admission. A few short steps away there stood a work of beauty: a full sized, humming, flashing pinball machine. Tommy’s Pinball Wizard no less! Celeste and I are the anti-Yogi. We’re a little dumber than the average bear, but even we could figure out how this worked. Out of a four hour visit to the Hall there was easily an hour and a half spent playing Pinball Wizard.

Before that day I was convinced that we had entered an age where the growing majority of our population knew nothing of pinball machines, those having been surpassed long ago by gaming consoles and other digital forms of entertainment. On the ride back from Cleveland the conversation settled about the pinball experience and I was quite heartened to learn that the pinball machine has indeed enjoyed a renaissance of sorts. Our conversation on that ride continued to weave in and out of the pinball experiences of our youth.

My own exposure to this venerated form of entertainment came, as it did for most of my generation, from arcade tents at various fairs and festivals. My first forays with the device were exercises in frustration. I came away from these convinced that these machines had been designed for the sole purpose of eating quarters. As with anything one only becomes proficient with practice, for which I was sorely wanting. Growing up on a farm in that era did not present a multitude of opportunities for this, but this was to change when I began high school.

Although I lived in a rural setting, it was at the time on the periphery of a suburban school district.  Most of my classmates lived in the suburban sprawl that came to life through the 1960s and 70s. I was a member of that small contingent known affectionately as the “country fucks”. The school was just off of route 40, known as it is in those parts as Broad Street, and for kids like me this brought an entirely accidental benefit. It meant that for at least a fews days of every week I had access to such adolescent diversions as were not accessible from the farm. These included a steady supply of members of the opposite sex, recreational drugs and yes, even pinball. Blessed with neither an abundance of disposable income nor the requisite social skills to engage successfully with girls, I naturally gravitated to pinball. I know. Sad isn’t it? Well, thats life.

Being involved in a number of after school activities I was left with some period of time between these and dismissal from the day’s classes. Thus developed the ritual of making the trek out to Broad Street, turning right and walking the few blocks east to a local pizza joint called Dino’s Bar and Grill. In those years there were a variety of choices within walking distance for a youth to be misspent. My selection of Dino’s can be attributed to nothing more than the familiarity of it’s name. Some of you may recall a song from the rock band Thin Lizzy, The boys are back in town, in which the “boys” were known to hang down at Dino’s Bar and Grille. I had enough sense to know that my Dino’s was hardly that Dino’s, but as the song was still in current rotation on FM radio I took it as an invitation. I’ve not been back inside of the establishment to see whether or not it’s interior is likewise unchanged, but my suspicion is that it remains what it always was: a dive. Within the boundaries of the same city there is another establishment (also of the dive class) which proclaims itself as the cultural center of the Midwest. I have often mused that this may account for the prevalence of depression and suicide in the region. I could, of course, be wrong.

As our conversation continued I recounted to Celeste how I had developed my pinball skills back in the day, down at Dino’s Bar and Grille. This in turn led to one particular occasion at Dino’s which I had previously filed away into some dark and dusty corner of my memory. When I had first begun these forays out to Broad Street they were mostly solo. Some other ne’er do wells of the same age class would frequent Dino’s in those after school hours. Some of them I knew casually; most were just strangers. One of the first that I became acquainted with at Dino’s (and later on to a greater degree at school) was a young man by the name of Tom Gray.  Young Thomas would later earn the moniker Tom Tripper. That is a title that probably bears little need for explanation to most, but I will elaborate further in due time.

We actually made our first connection due to the fact that we smoked the same brand of cigarettes, Viceroy. I don’t recall exactly when I migrated from these to the more conventional Cowboy Killers, but I do remember that in one of our first meetings Tom explained to me that they had become his smoke of choice because the brand was positioned in such a way at the local IGA store as to make them quite easy to boost from the shelf. Tom wasn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer, but he was a font of knowledge for practical matters such as boosting cigarettes from retail shelves.

As a relative stranger to the neighborhood it was good for me to have Tom as a companion. Though he was no older than I, he carried a certain street cred due to family connections. Tom was the younger stepbrother to the children of his mother’s second husband. By this time those lads were well off in college, but apparently they had blazed quite a trail before him. For good or ill Tom was a known quantity, whereas I was unmistakably one of the country fucks. It also helped that he was quite handy with a pool cue and this was his recreation of choice. And smoking green. And, later on….

I mentioned that he came to be known as Tom Tripper. In the mid seventies if you were in high school, and you were looking to score your first hits of acid, it was always beneficial to have a collegiate connection. Young Thomas was the embodiment of this maxim. He was very smart in one way especially. Tom recognized early on that he was a consumer, and thus was not suited to act as a distributor. His stepbrothers no doubt aided in this decision. In any case, though Tom never sold acid this did not mean that he would not share. His most famous exploit by far was a live demonstration, in the middle of the cafeteria, of how to drop microdots under your eyelid. To this day I won’t even do that!

Tom and I eventually became a regular pairing on the pool table at Dino’s, when it was available. Whenever there was a wait we had the choice of two pinball machines to pass the time. I don’t recall the theme of either of them, but there was one in the rear near the pool table and the other in front, in what passed for their dining area. Most times we would stick to the machine in the rear because if we were playing pinball that meant we already had a quarter up on the table. Over the course of some months I became pretty confident on that machine.

The key to successful recreational drug use is in understanding one’s limitations. The success is defined by nothing more than avoiding incarceration. Others may disagree, but that is the crux of the biscuit my friends. The youthful tripper is still filled with that euphoria, the blissful elation which engenders the sincere belief that anything is possible. They have not yet been instilled with the requisite paranoia needed to navigate the harsh cruelty of the adult world. It is in that very perilous mental state that I entered Dino’s one afternoon with Tom.  I was about to discover one of my limitations.

On this particular occasion Tom had some purple barrel to share. These were like a microdot, but larger. It was rumored that they were a stacked double dose of purple microdot, though I couldn’t say for certain whether or not this was true. This was not my first encounter with the drug, but this was to be the first time I had entered Dino’s in such a condition. My prior experience up until that point had been solo events; sitting up all night in my bedroom with the White Album over my headphones, the textured patterns in the ceiling paint depicting a re-enactment of bloody European history. That was a safe place for me to trip. This was very edgy. If I’d not been along with Tom I am certain I would not have dropped that hit when I did, around 3:00. It had to have been about 3:45 when we arrived at Dino’s. The experienced psychonauts in our audience can do the math and make an educated guess what happens next.

This was a warm day and quite sunny. Waveforms were already merging with heat mirage rising from the pavement. For the inexperienced tripper on their first public outing this was very unsettling. Once we reached their door I was eager to get inside. Without even looking into the back room to confirm it, I was immediately struck with the sensation that the table was already occupied. I felt hostility reaching out for us. The next thing I knew we were at the pinball machine at the front of the shop, facing out to the passing traffic on Broad Street. That was good. A geographic reference, a way to remember where I was.

Somehow I managed to extract a quarter from my pocket and successfully guide it into the slot. It jolted me when I felt the machine hum to life in my hands and then, for some time that seemed like an hour, I was part of the machine. I really felt it! This was a hallucination. I had lost all four balls inside of five minutes and probably did not even register 10,000 points. And that was just O-Kay. Lights were flashing everywhere, all sounds were compressed about my ears, and Tom drops his quarter. Then I got schooled.

I can’t pretend that I’m some kind of pinball aficionado.  I don’t scan Craigslist to find machines for sale and you won’t find me stalking the county fair circuit to see what is the latest in a twentieth century technology. They are a vestige of my youth and thus I enjoy them. Having the opportunity to play for an extended time for the first time in decades can revive a lot of memories. I maybe have not logged enough hours at pinball to be qualified for this judgement, but for my money Tom’s performance that afternoon was the most impressive display of pinball skill I have ever witnessed. He had at least twenty minutes in before he lost his first ball. And I was left paralyzed there at his side on a stool, hypnotized by the blur of the ball, the passing traffic and the sounds of the machine which seemed to come from everywhere but the machine. That day I learned one of my limitations: do not trip in public places. Tom could do it and many others can, but I am not one of them. It is a rule I have lived by, lo these many years.

Celeste’s reaction to this tale actually took me by surprise. She smiled and seemed genuinely amused, while at the same time her smile wore an underlying expression of a look which said “are you really that much of a dumbass?” After responding with the obligatory “what?”, she said ” He’s your pinball wizard? Tom, Tommy…. duh?”

Wow! That was like getting hit with a club! See, for me the memory was always about the trip, and the name Tom Tripper. It matched. It just stuck to his memory over the years. Until that instant in the car I had never thought of it as Tom, Tommy the Pinball Wizard. She was right. Tommy was all about breaking free of limitations. Both of them.