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Warp 18 : An Old Mule Gang Story
A socially irresponsible coming of age story about drugs.
I’ll be perfectly 100% honest.
I can’t do drugs.
Not that I was ever that into them in the first place but still I realized about 10 years ago that I was not built for that kind of “entertainment.”
Granted, it took me almost 40 years and countless misadventures to learn this valuable lesson. But at least it finally sunk in and I’m the better for it.
What follows is a semi-true comic about the use of one drug in particular otherwise known as Marijuana, or Reefer, or Mary Jane, or Grass, or the Jolly Green Giant of Ganja.
Admittedly this comic and the story after it aren’t very politically correct or even socially responsible. Take them for what they are, as windows into the weird, crazy and stupid journeys and lessons one takes in the course of life while on their way to enlightenment.
I grew up in a small town in upstate New York that was called Big Flats, where there wasn’t much to occupy a teenager’s spare time.
Oh sure, we could hang out at Denny’s Sub Shop. That is, until Denny would get sick of our deadbeat asses taking up seats and kick us all out.
From there we could go hang out at the Driving Range next to the Big Flats Golf Course. This was run by our pal Jimbo’s father. Although his father was rarely there and the Driving Range hut was usually manned by Jimbo’s brother Matty.
Matty would let us hang out for a couple hours and let us hit balls at Jimbo as he drove the little tractor which collected golf balls.
We also had a local gravel quarry pond that we could swim in during the hot summers. But we had to sneak into that since it was posted with no trespassing signs, which in retrospect were probably put up for good reason since the quarry was next to a diesel storage facility.
That might have explained the lime green water and the occasional oil drums we could float on.
But other than that there really wasn’t much else to do in Big Flats except have house parties or go camping and partying in the woods.
Our house parties usually had booze supplied by what we could steal from a neighbor’s garage. If we couldn’t find a friend’s house whose parents had left for the night, we’d take our parties to a campout in the woods, where again the booze would be supplied by stealing it from that same neighbor’s garage.
After a dozen thefts, the neighbor finally got wise and only kept a case of expired Pabst Blue Ribbon and a couple of bottles of Muscatel in his garage.
You’d think we would have learned our lesson after getting massively sick from drinking expired beer mixed with Muscatel, but alas, no. Our rotten teenage hunger for booze was only surpassed by our own idiocy to continue this depraved behavior.
I should mention that this all occurred during the late 1970s. A time when latch key kids like myself were left to our own misguided devices. Our parents were too busy to be worried about their kids’ well being. Parents worked 24/7 and struggled to make ends meet during double digit inflation and gas embargoes.
At the time there also weren’t such things as soccer moms or helicopter parents.
The closest thing to that was Jimbo’s mom. That woman was like a Canadian mountie in her dogged pursuit of poor Jimmy. He was often tracked down and awakened on many a campout morning by the sounds of his mom’s voice screeching his name from the weeds.
“Jimmy! Jimmy! I know you’re here! You have hockey practice!”
Jimbo would then arise, dreary-eyed, hung-over and usually flecked with puke remnants, to wander back in the direction of his mom’s voice.
Her early morning revelry was also a good wake up call to the rest of us to get the hell home before our own parents started a search. God bless her frantic little heart.
Funny how she never chased after Matty or any of Jimbo’s other siblings.
I guess she knew he was the wild child out of the bunch.
How the Old Mule Gang name was born.
Once a few of us reached an age where regular shaving was a thing, we thought that perhaps we could actually pass for being old enough to BUY beer from a convenience store.
Since I was the oldest (17) in our group, we assumed I had the best chance of making a purchase. (That’s teenage logic for you.)
But we realized we needed a plan for this to work. We deduced that Frank, another buddy from our gang of friends, as well as myself, needed to grow mustaches. Frank being a hirsute Italian was able to grow a decent stash in about a week.
It also helped that at 16 years old he was 6’2”. This would cover for the failings of my own sparsely populated stash and low Irish stature of only 5’7”.
Once we facially looked the part, we then dressed for the part. I borrowed a couple of my old man’s work shirts from his TV Repair biz. We put them on and then rode our 10 speed bikes to the local convenience store.
After stashing our bikes around the back of the store, we trotted to the front and boldly strolled through the door, all the while chatting about our tough work day.
“Man, what a crap day at the TV shop!”
“So many Tube Replacements!”
“Our boss is such a dick! Boy do I really need a Drink!”
We then walked over to the beer cooler and reached for the cheapest beer we could find. Since between the both of us we had collected about seven dollars in quarters and dimes from the rest of the gang, our choices were limited.
But thanks to the Old Milwaukee Beer company and their discount pricing of selling can six packs at $1.39, we were able to get a case of beers!
The girl working the front counter giggled a bit when we stepped up with our beer and then showered her with all the silver spilling from our pockets.
She might have also been giggling at the fact that on both our shirts, over the shirt pocket was embroidered the name “Ed,” which was my dad’s name.
Thankfully she didn’t ask us why we were both named Ed.
Despite this we stayed in character.
“Damn boss! Would you believe he only paid us in change today!”
“Miserly bastard! Boy do I need a drink!”
The girl took our change, rang up the sale, then winked and said “I know what you mean about cheap bosses.” Then she nodded over at an old woman in the back of the store.
With smiles a mile wide, we hustled out the door with our bounty and around the corner back to our bikes.
How the cashier girl didn’t see these two teenage clowns in TV repair shirts balancing six packs of beer while riding off on their 10 speeds is a mystery to this day.
We were able to pull off this ruse five more times, until one unlucky day, while we were in line with our beer, Denny from the sub shop next door walked into the store.
He immediately dimed us out to the cashier at the time, an older Asian lady.
“Do you know how old these guys are? Proof ‘em!”
Despite this we stayed in character.
“Ed, I left my wallet in the Truck. You got yours?”
“Why um…no…Frank…err I mean, Ed…I left mine at home. Do you accept library cards?”
Denny scowled at us as we sheepishly left empty handed from the store. We felt betrayed! After all, how much had we’d given Denny over the years for meatball subs and Cokes? Yet this was the thanks we get!
All little alcoholic setbacks aside, by this time thanks to our initial choice in brews, and our continued impoverishment, Old Milwaukee had become our beer of choice. Our group of friends also gained a moniker around school thanks to that choice of inebriant: The Old Mule Gang.
Not to be confused with other Old Mule Gangs in Milwaukee, Gettysburg, or Goose Pimple Junction, Virginia.
Like I said, there really wasn’t much else to do in Big Flats, at least until the mall was built. But I’ll save those stories for another day.
The other thing about Big Flats was that good pot was a rarity. If anyone did have Mary Jane, they usually got it from their older brother and it was always lesser quality skunk weed. Smoking it was as pleasurable as inhaling a burning garbage dump.
That’s why when The Old Mule Gang started to attend Horseheads High School we got to know friends who were more well monied and better connected. Maybe that’s also why we got to know Dom and Rick, the O’Hara brothers. Their father was a big wig rich lawyer and they similarly reeked of money and smug privilege. They also reeked of pot since at every party they always had a big bag of it.
Maybe we should have asked if their dad was a defense lawyer for pot dealers. That would have explained the good quality of their weed.
Rick was the more sedate brother while Dom O’Hara was the more smarmy prickish one. Ironically not only was he a huge pothead but also on the Honor Roll. Much later on in life, it figured that he’d became a lawyer and then a N.Y. State Senator. Although how a person who smoked that much weed could have passed any drug tests seems rather dubious.
Gee, now that I think about it, maybe I should make a bit of bank by blackmailing him with certain details from his past? Hmm.
Perhaps that’s a story for another day.
I hope you got a chuckle from this foray into my goofy, unsettling, and less than PC past. If you didn’t feel free to let me know either way.
Here’s a new week of Suggested Stacks to Check out:
Situation Normal - Slice of life humor from his life with friends and family.
The Art of Noticing - A newsletter about creativity, work, and staying human.
We Rise Project - A great newsletter dedicated to health and physical fitness. Para aquellos que saben leer español.
Juke - A sandbox masquerading as an arts journal. Lots of great writing to keep you entertained
Remember friends, Life is messy so always remember to pack a mental napkin.