Tag Archives: Pot

Chasing Agriculture

I arrived in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco at the tail end of the “Summer of Love.” It was either late August or very early September. Things were already starting to fall apart before I got up there, but it took weeks before I was able to recognize what was happening.

Where It All Happened

I had traveled from Los Angeles by thumb, where I had just given up a lucrative business my father had purchased for me at the very end of 1966. Fearing my life was going nowhere (which it kinda was) he took the opportunity to buy a small snack shop from a friend who was going into another business. The place was called DEBS, which was an acronym of the previous owners family’s names. We kept it . . . the name that is.

Situated directly across the street from the May Company, between 8th and 9th Streets on S. Hill Street, I was making big bucks for a snot-nosed teenager. I didn’t realize just how lucky I was at the time which, I suppose, is the very definition of privilege. I just did a time/value calculation and discovered I was making the equivalent of close to a quarter of a million dollars a year back then. Yikes! That doesn’t seem possible or even reasonable, but I’m pretty sure it’s true.

Unfortunately, I was only 19 years old at the time, fresh out of High School the previous year and recently honorably discharged from the U.S. Navy after a total of one month and twenty-three days of service. I’m surely one of a few people in the country who has served, received the National Defense Service Medal, and also a medical discharge while I was still in boot camp. Since I was in for such a short time, I am not eligible for veteran’s benefits, nor have I ever sought to receive them . . . but that’s another story I’ll get to later.

This is a screenshot from Google Maps’ Street View. According to Yelp, they’re still in business, though I know it’s not the same people

DEBS Snack Shop was open six days a week, twelve hours a day on weekdays, and ten hours on Saturday. I had to be there for every one of those hours and, since I lived in the North end of the San Fernando Valley, the commute took at least an hour and a half, round-trip, every weekday. Saturdays were a little quicker. So I was putting in about 70 hours per week, not including time getting ready to head out the door.

Not only were the hours long, I had to deal with my father coming by every day and pointing out everything I had done “wrong,” i.e. not how he would do it. Not that I didn’t screw up; 19-year-old boys aren’t the sharpest knives in the drawer, no matter how high their IQ. But my old man was not the kind to hand out compliments or praise. Nope. He was a genius at pointing out shortcoming, though.

I remember one weekend I finally had a date with a young woman I had met somewhere. Much of the detail is lost in the mists of time, including who she was and where we met, and the relationship didn’t last long at all. We went out to dinner and were going to go to a movie afterward. Unfortunately, if memory serves, I actually fell asleep at dinner, I was so tired. I don’t think we made it to the movie, and I’m not sure I ever saw her again.

That particular debacle was one of many compelling reasons I asked my father to sell the place after only seven months. I was young and restless, and I had no social life. I had also started smoking pot the previous year and was beginning to experiment with acid (LSD.) I needed to spread my wings and I didn’t see that ever happening as long as I was tied to a demanding business and an overbearing father. But I digress.

What I was thinking of when I decided to write this post was the agricultural workers here in my native County of Ventura. Some of the laborers post videos to a local Facebook group and seeing them brings me back to my two encounters with working in the fields, one of which took place while I was living up in the Haight.

Not the video I was referring to, but quite similar

When I was working in the snack shop, I frequently had to go and purchase produce, generally a few blocks away at the Grand Central Market. One of the items I had to buy was tomatoes. I would get them by the “lug,” each of which weighed approximately 30 pounds.

On many a day in the Haight, people would just sit around in front of the stores on Haight Street, sometimes standing to perform for the tourist buses that would pass by. They expected no less from a bunch of “Hippies,” and we were often content to give it to them. One day, a man came by and asked if anyone was interested in picking tomatoes. He said it paid a certain amount (I have no idea what it was) per “lug.” I accepted.

The following day, early in the morning, I boarded a bus with a group of fellow “hippies” and we were taken to a field right next to a mental hospital. We were set loose in the fields to pick tomatoes and it was then I discovered their definition of a “lug” was considerably larger than what I had grown used to purchasing for the snack shop’s use. At least twice as big! I had just turned 20 in June, a couple months prior to selling the business. I was in good shape, yet picking tomatoes, which requires bending over continuously, was physically demanding and, based on how many tomatoes had to be gathered to complete a “lug,” I soon came to the conclusion this was NOT how I wished to make money in the future.

I don’t think I spent more than a couple of hours in the field, but I’ve never forgotten how difficult and back-breaking the work was. It has given me a sense of deep respect for the people who spend their lives working in the fields. It is extraordinarily difficult (and sometimes dangerous) work, for which I’m sure they are not paid enough.

I did mention, above, there were two times I had worked in the field. The second one was in 1973, when I spent two months in Cuba as a member of the 6th contingent of the Venceremos Brigade. During that time I worked primarily in construction, making concrete slabs and pillars used to construct small, single-family dwellings. However, on one occasion we spent a day in the fields cutting sugar cane. In addition to the work being back-breaking, the fields were torched prior to our work in order to burn off some of the vegetation on the canes. It meant we were covered in burnt sugar cane juice by the end of the day.

Cutting Sugar Cane is a messy and exacting task

I had purchased a pair of brown Red Wing boots for the trip. After one day in the fields, they were mostly black from that burnt juice. It never came off.

Those two, admittedly short stints in the field gave me an appreciation for anyone who works in agriculture – especially those who bend over and pick and pack our food for distribution. I’ve done a lot of other things in my life that were difficult, some equally so, but none more difficult than picking tomatoes or cutting sugar cane. I have nothing but respect for someone who makes their living doing such work. It’s why I have long supported the United Farm Workers and all who struggle to be treated with dignity and respect.


A Useful (for moi) Outline

As I have noted previously, I am seriously considering working on a book, either of my memoirs (my whole life) or one about my activities in the Peace and Justice movement of the late sixties and early seventies. Most of that work was in protesting the war in Vietnam, but some of it was in protest of racism and inequality. If fact, I just found this document I authored about six years ago, which I called “20 things about me” and I can see it doesn’t say a word about my work with the Committee to Free Angela Davis. Clearly, I’ll be adding to this list, which I believe I will use to help me organize my thoughts about my life.


This is two views of one of the casts that were put on my left foot beginning 2 days after I was born. They must have put it on loose, because I kicked it off. My mother asked me to save it so, even though she’s been gone for about a decade, they’ll probably get cremated with me.

  1. I was born with club feet, one of which was corrected with casts, the other of which was corrected with surgery at 5 years old.
  2. When I enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1966, I failed my physical because of my foot, but argued successfully that you don’t march in the Navy. Big mistake; it’s about all you do in boot camp. Was subsequently discharged when they discovered I had arthritis in my ankle.
  3. My father, fearing I would become a bum, bought a small snack shop for me when I was 19 and a half. I was there during the Summer of Love (1967) and ended up having him sell it at a loss so I could go up to Haight-Ashbury and find out what the hell was going on.
  4. It took me 3.5 years to complete High School because I cut so many classes and just didn’t want to be there. I subsequently gained admission and graduated with a Juris Doctorate from an accredited Law School ten years later, without having attended undergraduate school.
  5. I provided armed security – as a bodyguard and with a team doing bomb searches, etc. – for numerous groups and individuals during the height of the anti-Vietnam War movement, including Jane Fonda, Arco Iris, Hortensia Bussi, and Vietnamese students in the U.S.
  6. I, along with my brother and my roommate, provided armed bodyguard services for Roger MacAfee and his family after they had put up their ranch for Angela Davis’s bail.
    They were guests of honor at a fundraiser called “In Concert For Angela,” which was held at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles. His family, and the three of us, were about the only white people there.
  7. I was a bartender at the Ash Grove in Hollywood, a venue distinguished by having been burned to the ground numerous times by anti-Castro Cubans (Gusanos).
  8. I spent two months in Cuba as a guest of the Cuban government and a member of the sixth contingent of the Venceremos Brigade.
  9. I taught myself Spanish for the trip.
  10. My first wife was Cuban (totally unrelated to my trip many years earlier) and my current (2nd) wife is Sansei (3rd generation Japanese-American).
  11. I’ve smoked pot since I was 19. I’m currently 66 (and my brain still functions pretty darn well).
  12. I love good single-malt Scotch.
  13. My last dog was a Rottweiler who was given to me as a gift from a girlfriend who couldn’t handle him. He loved to chase shadows and stomp ants.
  14. I have had at least a dozen cats throughout my life, including two right now – Zack and Weezy.
  15. I accidentally ended up working on the Space Shuttle Main Engine program beginning a year before the Shuttle’s return to flight after the Challenger disaster. I stayed there for 23 years.
  16. I accepted an early retirement package in 2010, as the Shuttle program was winding down and the space program was contracting.
  17. I earned a Masters degree in Knowledge Management from CSUN in 2009, at the age of 62.
  18. I became a first-time, adoptive father at the tender age of 55 and, in a stunning display of higher intelligence, did it again at 59. I feel responsible, but not guilty, for the part I have played in IA.
  19. I attempted to provide social media marketing services for small businesses after retiring, but soon discovered nobody could afford to hire me and most were abysmally ignorant of what was possible.
  20. At the end of last year I decided to offer my services as an editor and proofreader and my efforts are beginning to pay off.
  21. I just signed two contracts to write for a couple of organizations I have a great deal of respect for.

I Didn’t Quit; I Just Stopped

I smoked my first cigarette when I was five years old. That’s right. Five. I didn’t inhale; didn’t even know that was an option back then. My best friend, Jim, had “liberated” a cigarette from his father. It was either a Camel or a Lucky Strike. This was in 1952 and the first filtered cigarette to be successfully marketed – Winston – would not be available for another two years.

Jim and I sat on a merry-go-round similar to the one below, though nobody bothered to paint them back then. We used to hang out at Panorama Park, just north of where I attended Kindergarten, Chase Street Elementary School. A couple of weeks later, Jim managed to snag a couple of rolling papers from his dad.

Playground Merry-Go-Round

Round and Round and Round We Went

We went to the Thrifty Drug Store on Van Nuys Blvd., in “downtown” Panorama City, and walked out with a can of (“Well . . . let him out!”) Prince Albert tobacco, then absconded to the east end of the parking lot, where there were lots of bushes to hide out in.

Five-year-olds do not have the manual dexterity to roll cigarettes by hand. I’m not sure we could have done it with a machine. We were unsuccessful and, dejectedly, had to settle for “borrowing” cigarettes from our fathers; his the Camels or Lucky Strikes, mine Pall Mall.

Filterless Cigarettes

All Three in One Photo!

It would be another three years before I actually inhaled my first cigarette, an act from which I would not look back for quite some time, and which I now look back on with some remorse.

Look. I’m not trying to justify or celebrate smoking. When I first set out on that path, the only negative thing I can recall hearing was that it stunted your growth. Nobody mentioned cancer, emphysema, bronchitis, etc. Nobody! Smoking was permitted everywhere, at any time. And it was so cool! Cooler than Elvis’s sideburns, which I could not grow at nine years old to save my life.

It wasn’t until I was 15 and, through a combination of teenage hubris and stupidity, almost burned down our modest suburban home, that my parents gave up and decided it was better if I smoked in front of them, rather than had to continue covering it up and, maybe, killing everyone.

By then I had become, like my father before me, a Marlboro “man” and within a few years was smoking about a pack and a half a day. I cut down somewhat when I started smoking pot in the late summer of 1966, mostly because tobacco tasted funky on top of the taste of weed. I didn’t stop.

It wasn’t until my mid-thirties that I managed to stop smoking for fourteen years. During that entire time I never said I had quit smoking; only that I had stopped. I knew I was a hopeless addict and, in the intervening years (I’m now 70), I have stopped and started numerous times.

Each time I stop I go cold turkey. Generally, it’s only taken me a day or two, at the most, to get over any physical craving for tobacco or nicotine. Unfortunately, I never get over – only manage to control – the ingrained rituals and habits of smoking.

I’m bringing this up because last Friday, after over a year, I stopped again. In a few hours it will have been a week since I last inhaled tobacco smoke. I took advantage of a trip to the Bay Area for a memorial service and didn’t take any tobacco with me and I had no plans of purchasing any while there. I was traveling with my oldest daughter and wouldn’t dream of smoking where she could breath it second-hand. In fact, in the last twenty years, of which I’ve probably smoked for about six or seven, I have either not smoked in the house, or did it under the stove’s exhaust fan set to high, very carefully blowing my exhaled smoke into the updraft created by the fan. And that was only on the bitterest and coldest of days, which are few and far between here in SoCal.

So, after a day or two, I had no cravings at all for nicotine. I do still have to fight the habitual affectations that went along with my smoking; the numerous breaks one takes in the course of a day to grab a couple of “hits” in between whatever you might be doing. I’ve also gained a couple of pounds and my next challenge will be continuing not to smoke and still get back to the weight I believe I should be to be as healthy as possible.

I don’t ever want to smoke again, but I’m aware of my proclivities toward tobacco and just can’t honestly rule out a cigarette or cigar at some time in the future. If I’m strong, I can probably make it through what remains of my life without shortening it even more. That’s what I have to keep reminding myself.


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