Thursday, August 27, 2009
The Origins of My Comic Career & Smokin' Tokin' Orangutangs
Well, I can't exactly pin it down to any one date, but there were specific moments in my life that defined my Comic career, which is still evolving, changing, and moving to this day. I am inspired to write some of those moments here because of the writings of my long time, good friend, Skip Williamson. Skip has had a major impact on my life since I first saw him on the campus Culver-Stockton College in 1965. He was the only cool Beatnik on campus, that I can remember with a beard. Wow what a shock !!!! I thought everyone at college would have beards and or goat tees, wearing leather sandals!!!!!!!!!!! Wrong...........but let me, skip college and fast forward to the Spring of 1968, Chicago.
I had just been discharged by the US Navy for confessing to smoking Marijuana and was on my way home to Sweet Home Chicago Suburb in Brookfield. But first I spent about three months in San Francisco waiting for the official discharge, General: Under Honorable Conditions. They put all of the druggies in "D" barracks. Typical Government operation, D for Drug addicts, easy to remember, simple to deploy, nothing to difficult for Chief Petty Officers to understand. Well, we were all getting out and had nothing better to do, than, well, drugs.
What? The Navy had no protocol for drug taking in their entire history going back to John Paul Jones. It was an epidemic by 1968 and they just said..."here, you guys stay in this area till we release you". So we had the stereo set up in the rec room and just listened to Traffic, Steppenwolf, Canned Heat, Jefferson Airplane, the Stones, The Doors, Jimi Hendrix Experience, the 13th Floor Elevators and got high. The Navy forced us to leave the lights on all night, which did not bother too many of us because Meth was everywhere in the barracks, anyway, no one slept that I could remember, we would just crash and get up later and start over................all day or night, it was always on in "D" barracks that Spring in San Francisco. I mean we could go ashore, but there were more drugs on Treasure Island Naval Base than Haight/Ashbury, or so it seemed. Plus the Summer of Love was over by the Spring of 1968. The atomsphere on Haight St. was extreme violence. Hell's Angels, San francisco Police, and tons of mace. I was there when the Police maced everyone inside the infamous Straight Theater . It was not too comical.
Finally, my orders came for my final physical and a ticket home. So, I went down to the infirmary, got my blood test and as I was standing in line, I blacked out, fell flat on my chin, broke my jaw. I had to have my mouth wired shut for 6 weeks. Get my wires off in April, I finally got my walking papers to fly back to Chicago with two pounds of some good grass I purchased outside of Francisco. As the Beatles song went...JoJo left his home in Tucson Arizona for some California Grass......... I left for Sweet Home Chicago with some California Grass....In those days, there was no dogs sniffing your bags, no security whatsoever. Transporting large quantities of dope was pretty easy , provided you did not look like a R. Crumb comic character. That came later at Skip's Apartment, that wonderful summer in Chicago, 1968. A lot of Cheap Thrills to come.
I got a job at the Brookfield Zoo that fateful summer, driving the tour guide train around the Zoo. We had three trains with two tour guides for each train. Since my friend, Gary Grunnet, got me the job, I knew everyone would be getting high, everyday, at the Zoo and I would fit right in. It was a perfect cartoon setting to start my Comic career. On weekends, me, and maybe another friend from the burbs would drive down to Chicago to hang out with Skip and his wife Cecil at their totally cool pad just off Clark street. We brought the reefer, and Skip had the great tunes. Cecil had munchies for everyone. That is probably when I officially became a Comic, right there at Skip's place when Robert Crumb and Jay Lynch came over and we all went to Lincoln Park in my 1963 Rambler but more about that later (as I am currently working on the Graphic Novel version of that entire incident.)
Don't get me wrong, I was a pretty funny guy at the Brookfield Zoo gig, too. We would take our breaks and go up behind the animal outdoor exhibitions and smoked hash or reefer in the brushes then come back to the train station , loaded and we would start the train up and drive around listening to Born To Be Wild going about 8 MPH. One of us was on the microphone at the back giving the "Rap" while the other was just stoned out driving this 8 car, 75 passenger train with car tire wheels around the Zoo, second largest in the World next to San Diego at that time. So, as a tour guide "Rapper", we each had a different style of craziness but mostly we copied each other's phrases and descriptions of the different Exhibits and funny antedotes.
Like at the Elephant House we would say something like..." And over on your right, ladies and gentleman , you will notice the Pachyderm House.........Superman is buried beneath this exhibit as well as we have the largest Pachyderm in the world here.... She is famous for attacking her trainers at the Ringling Bros Barnum & bailey Circus several years ago, killing two people......." The passengers would gasp and Moms and Dads would say.... 'look there kids..... a rogue killer Elephant, how cute".............
We used to feed the Orangutangs cigarettes on our breaks, too. They all loved to smoke. We would walk up to their cage and take out a cigarette, light it, smoke a few puffs and then flipped it to them through the bars. They would see us coming and line up with their hands out to be the first to catch a Smoke. The people standing around were amazed. The Orangutangs were from Borneo and when we drove by them with the tour train we used to say they liked to smoke Marlboros the best in Borneo, no believed us till they saw us flip them cigarettes. It was a great show, to watch them scramble for the smoke by all the Orangutangs, the lucky one who caught it first would put it to their huge lips and take a drag then smile and blow smoke out their nostrils and mouth then smile again and take another puff. They would generally hold the cigarette underhanded between their thumb and their first two fingers, the way a pansy would smoke. Or some Hollywood starlet. Once an Orangutang had the cigarette in his or her hand, the others would chase that one all around the cage trying to get the cigarette for themselves, except for Fatty.........
Fatty was the King of the Orangutangs. He weighted in at around 450 lbs and just sat there. He would just backhand anything or anyone that got close to him. When King Fatty wanted the cigarette , he would basically kick the crap out of whoever had it, force them to drop and run. Then he would smoke it, and dare anyone to mess with him.....to say the least no one did........he was the King.
One time we decided to flip them joints just to see what would happen, one for each of the seven Orangutangs with a giant dobie for King Fatty. It was a risky move. We decided we better do it before people got into the park or else we would be in deep sh^t, possibly. So a couple of the guys decided to do it before the park opened up one sunday morning. The Orangutangs loved it, they all had a joint of their own and thought it was great fun, so did we. On our breaks, we would go check in on their condition, like the song "just dropped in to see what condition my condition was in........ The Orangutangs were all great performers for the Public. But that morning after smoking a few joints, they got way out of hand. Once in a while they would have sex during the day in front of people. But that day, they all got into it, it was, well, an Orangutang orgy, that was the only way to describe it. King Fatty was swinging from the ceiling and then would tackle a female to the ground mount her for a while then move on to the next Honey Orangutang, the place was up for grabs!!!!!!!! People were running to see it from all directions. Finally the Zoo Keepers got out the tarps and covered the entire cage but you could still hear the grunting, moaning......and cheetah type laughter. Every heard???????????? never mind....................we had to play it cool, like we were as shocked as everyone else.........it was hard to get a straight face.
The Zoo Keepers suspected something was up, but no one got busted that day. When the Democratic Convention finally arrived in August, the Train drivers were all polarized against Mayor Daly and the Chicago Police. As the police rioted that week, we broadcasted from the Tour Guide PA system our political convictions as we travelled around the Zoo, pretty stoned out. I went down one afternoon on Tuesday to Grant park to hear Phil Ochs in the bandshell and watched the cops bust Tom Hayden. By this time I was learning how to actually keep on truckin' like a Robert Crumb comic character from Zap Comics and beginning my Street Guerilla Theater Comic career. Skip was there, he could tell ya.....