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.

My Dog’s Thoughts on Pink Floyd

Not long ago I was introduced to a meditation channel.  It is not the sort of thing I would seek out on my own, but I actually sat and listened to it for a few minutes.  Within a very short time it had formed a reminiscence of the Pink Floyd song from their famed LP Ummagumma, Grantchester Meadows.  I then forced myself to sit and listen to some more of this channel.  I came to a conclusion.  Someone identified the need to create one of these channels (actually there are several) and there are people checking in. This can not be a bad thing if it leads to more people finding their chill and not being such colossal dicks all the time. Or…they could just listen to some Floyd!

There are certain standout pieces from the band’s portfolio which appear with regularity in my various playlists. Dark Side of the Moon in it’s entirety, of course, and select tracks from their other LPs. As I was caused to make a review of these I made a discovery that rather surprised me. There were no tracks from the Animals LP on any of the lists. Naturally my reaction was to cue it up and give it a listen.

The first time I ever heard anything from the album was quite probably some time in February of 1977. We were in the midst of what was up to that time the coldest winter of the twentieth century. In my bedroom above the garage I huddled about the heat register in the floor, a blanket wrapped around to contain the warm air. It was probably in this fashion that I sat huddled in the dark, next to a small radio and listened to a WCOL-FM DJ introduce Pigs (three different ones). Upon revisiting the full LP I am still of the opinion that this is indeed the most striking track of the album, both lyrically and musically.

Though it is hardly February and nowhere near to record-breaking cold temperatures, the change of season has brought with it no shortage of grey, miserably damp, chill days upon which to spend contemplating these weighty matters.  I happened to have at hand an intriguing new strain from my botanist, the Montana Flowering Dogweed, which I employed to good use for the occasion. Both were consumed in the dark, save for the light of the fire. Pink Floyd has always served as a fine soundtrack for any blaze.

For those who are unfamiliar, and those who may have simply forgotten, Pigs (three different ones) was on side two of the original vinyl. The lead off of the LP is the plaintive Pigs on the Wing, followed then by the stark and brooding piece Dogs. Perhaps it is somehow connected to that cold place where I first listened to this work, but I found that the song Dogs takes me to a very cold, dark and distant place.

Beginning at the 6:14 mark of side one there is a segment of about 45 seconds where there are the barks and howls of various hounds. Where I sat enjoying this my dog, Matthau, was at my feet and I noted his ears prick up slightly at this point. In the idle chatter one often engages with their pets I asked ” Well, old boy! Know what they’re saying, do you?” He gave me one of those looks, as dogs sometimes will, which seemed to question my sanity. He raised his massive head to snuff once at the smoke billowing from the glass bong and then rose from the floor to pad across the room and take a seat in the chair opposite. I wasn’t expecting an answer and his behavior, though somewhat odd, was not entirely out of the ordinary. Then he began to speak.

” The dogs, yes… they do go on there a bit, don’t they? Rather funny, that….”

He was sounding a bit like Alec Guinness. “Matthau? I didn’t know you could talk!”

“Of course I can speak, you pillock! I’m an English Mastiff, not some Neapolitan dullard!”

“No offense, Matthau! I just wonder why you waited until now!”

“It’s the Dogweed, old bean. Otherwise you’re too thick to hear it.”

“Is that it?”

“You have a better explanation?”

“I do not.”

“Well, there it is then.”

” I suppose you’re right, old boy. We’ll have to ask Carlton to get us some more of this soon. So what are those dogs saying anyway?”

“Oh they’re banging on about what worthless sods their agents were. Couldn’t even negotiate a reasonable royalties contract, could they?”

“Really? You’re having me on!”

“Am I? Perhaps you’d like corroboration from another hound?”

His point was well taken and I surely had no reason to doubt him. I have since learned of rumor that Roger Waters has advocated on behalf of the estates of these long departed canines. Mr. Waters has declined any comment upon the matter.

 

Notable Smokeables

InkedFat Turd_LI

Nobel Prize? Ok, I guess…

Inkedil papa_LI

Aaay, Frankie!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Inkedjerrybrown-1_LI

Baked on 1st and 2nd tour

Bat shit crazy

No! just bat shit crazy

InkedWilly_LI

Forgot to exhale

 

 

 

Who else belongs on this list? 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Inkedjoker_LI

???

Say it ain’t so!

Summer 2018

A Smoking Bong report

by Carlton Milhouse

 

Boy did I have a fun summer! I have traveled, met new people and have sampled some great new strains. Some of these I would never have had the chance to try had it not been for being on the road. Way back in 1947-51, when Kerouac was on the road, that dude really got what it was all about. The Beat Generation understood and Kerouac, Ginsberg and Burroughs lived their lives complete against a backdrop of jazz, poetry and drug use. My own recent travels had less to do with jazz or poetry, though they do figure slightly in my tales. I too was on the road:  for the green!

Early this summer I discovered a strain in Montana that was, honest to God, covered in a fuzzy, pink and purple hair. That fellow botanist is deep in research developing the best “non-paranoia” strain ever created. He’s getting close because after lighting off some of this bud I was left feeling pink and purple. And quite fuzzy. I hope to have some more details to share with all of you stoners as this research progresses!

About a month later I came across a delightful home-grown strain in Yellow Springs, Ohio that was the deepest green I had ever seen, through and through. It was a green so rich I offered the suggestion of including Emerald somewhere in it’s name. The high was great! And it already had a name: Pine Cones. I had to admit the name suited it as it truly did taste like breathing in a pine forest, the high was so light! I laughed and made jokes, wanted to break into dance.

And when I saw that particular woman walking down the road… Oh, I won’t forget her any time soon! Dark hair and eyes, caramel skin and when we made eye contact? Lady, you know who you are and if you should read this please contact me. When our eyes met, if only for that instant, I had to fight every urge I had to grab her and cart her off to the nearest field for a little afternoon delight. In the Ohio Valley you are never far from a field somewhere.

Well I could act like every other casual tourist and give you a blow by blow account of my summer road trip, but what I’d rather discuss is travel itself from the perspective of the herbal tourist. In my lifetime I have traveled to three different continents. Most of my early travels were made during my studies. It was then, during my college days, that I first discovered this magnificent herb that the gods have blessed us with. I found it grown on all three of those continents, among those few things that nearly every place has in common. The best green I have ever smoked was a strain from Phuket, Thailand (or somewhere near there). The worst? Some nasty, dry, brown scrub I obtained in a little town outside of Paris. Ugh! Choked the shit out of me, gave me an instant headache and a sorry buzz that only lasted about 20 minutes. Kind of like the Colorado weed you find common these days. It costs a lot and leaves you wishing it had never been legalized! Damned commercialization! But that’s another discussion…

Travel changes people. Different people in many, many different ways. One thing that most can agree on is that travel grows the mind. That is if you let yourself go with the experience. Ninety percent of my travel has been solo, which is a definite plus. I have personally witnessed families traveling together in places like Venice and London who were obviously unhappy, stressing out and fighting like they were making a trip to the local mall back home. These poor souls have not given themselves a chance to fully immerse themselves into the experience.

Whether your travel is just stateside, like Kerouac, or put on your big boy pants and explore outside of the US, you have to give yourself to it. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Don’t complain about the monkeys carrying on outside your room when you’re in Cambodia. Ask yourself, when am I ever going to have to worry about monkeys outside my window again?

And stoners? We are worldwide. We don’t look the same everywhere you go. You won’t find any tie-dyes or ponytails from the locals while relaxing in the Canary Islands, but the discerning stoner will find “that guy” (or gal, with any luck) who can hook you up. Like that red and golden bud that made me buzz all over, the one I obtained from that lovely dark brown girl who wanted to sing me Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door. In my travels I have learned that it is not only weed, but apparently Bob Dylan too, that is universal in it’s reach. 

The similarities between all people seems to be nearly as many and as amazing as all of our differences. And we all have something we can learn from each other. I spent a summer in Trieste, Italy, where I left my job bussing tables at two in the afternoon (along with the rest of the staff) to go and have a siesta for two hours before dinner service. I like that way of life. Rarely did I rest, though. During that period I had found a luscious, young Italian mother with cleavage to die for. The strain she sold was as rich, dark and decadent as her rich, full bosom. Many were those siestas that we spent smoking the rich, dark herb while she rode on top of me. Yeah, I really liked that way of life! But I digress…

So get out there now! I mean it, a personal note to my fellow stoners. For just a little while anyhow, put down that remote, put the bong in the sink to be cleaned and grab a few bags of Lays from the cupboard. It’s time to travel. Don’t worry about our little green friend: you’ll find it anywhere if you look. Maybe you don’t want to travel with your stash, depending on your mode of travel of course, but don’t let that stop you from adventure. Go on. Go. Get outta here! I’m serious!

This is Carlton your Botanist. Until next time….keep it niiiiiiiice!