The final trimester of my junior year of high school I only had two classes. The remainder of the day I worked and took college prep courses. On days I didn’t work or have class, I was usually stoned by 10:00 and either studying or romping around the Santa Cruz Mountains with my buds.
One afternoon a friend and I were at Tower Records looking at the paraphernalia in their “gift shop” when the clerk asked if we wanted to sign up for the Bong-of-the-Month club. This was a brand new promotion and nobody had yet signed up for the first drawing that was to take place the following week. He showed us the bong they were giving away and we were captivated. We could just see ourselves smoking from this ceramic beauty. It had a gold and green glaze that swirled around a sort of moat just below the bowl. The moat held your stash and would catch the weed that fell away as you loaded the bowl. It was state-of-the-art dope smoking technology and it could be mine simply by dropping my name in a box. And, it was worth a whopping $35.00! That was more than 4 day’s wages in my $2.30 per hour part time job. I was quick to sign up!
A week later, I came home from school, put a record on the stereo and filled my pipe. I loved this time of day when I had no obligations and the house was empty. The neighbors were all at work too, so I could crank the music and do as I pleased without interruption or complaint. I had just finished smoking that first bowl of the day when the phone rang. I turned down the stereo and answered…
“Is this Rodger?”
“Hi, this is Chris at Tower Records, you were here last week and entered a contest. Do you remember what contest you entered?”
It was a simpler time then and we were very careful.
“Yeah…some bong thing.”
“That’s right…and you’re the first winner of the Bong-of-the-Month club, congratulations!”
“Really? Far out!” (yes, we used that phrase)
I couldn’t wait to go pick it up and called D to tell him the good news.
Twenty minutes later D and I were standing at the counter of the “gift shop” with big smiles and bloodshot eyes, anticipating the joy of taking that first hit off the new bong. I couldn’t believe how lucky I was to win such a nice, expensive piece of paraphernalia. It was going to be a great summer!
The clerk took the bong from the shelf, set it on the counter, and told me to wait just a minute while he got the camera.
“Camera? For what?”
“Because we need to take a picture of you holding the bong.”
“So we can hang it on the wall to show that someone actually won.”
All the care I’d taken to keep my smoking under wraps and now they want to hang a picture of me holding this massive bong on the wall at Tower Records for everyone to see. No wonder nobody had signed up! Duh!
Everybody I knew went to Tower including my parents. I could just see it…my mom coming into my room…“So show be that nice big bong you won last week”. I wouldn’t be able to lie my way out of that one, not with my picture hanging on the wall of the most popular record store in town. What the hell was I going to do? I tried to get D to take the picture for me since his parents were more liberal but he was busy reveling in the convenience of being runner-up. All the benefits of winning and no consequences…oh how I wish he’d won. I even tried to convince the clerk that it could ruin my life but he didn’t care, all he wanted was a picture to prove that someone took home a free bong. He finally convinced me to take the picture by telling me they would hang it behind the counter, which was far enough away that you really couldn’t make out my face. Well…that and the fact that if I didn’t pose, I couldn’t have the bong. Snap, flash and minutes later my likeness began to appear on the Polaroid film, looking like a deer caught in the headlights. A deer that spent the morning grazing on a crop of Humboldt County’s finest.
For the next six months the very mention of Tower Records would send a pang of fear through my gut. It was only a matter of time until someone would see my picture and promptly report it to my parents. But as the months passed and more pictures were added my fear began to fade. Eventually, the wall of photos began to include winners of other contests and promotions. If caught, I could now tell my folks that I had won concert tickets or a t-shirt, they’d be none the wiser. I was off the hook.
Years later, while drinking with my dad, we started talking about drugs. He knew by then that I had experimented but he didn’t know to what extent. He stopped me in my tracks with a comment about the Bong-of-the-Month Club and proceeded to tell me about a trip to Tower Records with my mom. While she was shopping he had stumbled upon a wall of photos. He thought he recognized me in the first picture but, being behind the counter, it was too far away to see clearly. I didn’t have the heart to tell him it was me.
So, dad, if you should happen to read this…Happy Father’s day from the original member of the Bong-of-the-Month Club!