Back in the 1980s in San Francisco, I was a horrible drunk. To support my alcoholism, I sold cocaine. It was pink Peruvian flake. I got it in big fucking blocks for $18,000 a kilo and broke it down unto manageable chunks. One of the places where I hung out was the Ye Rose and Thistle, a bar on California that was known as “The Nose and Bindle” because of all the coke that was going in and out of that place. At 7 or 8 p.m. I’d show up and supply all the people, including the women who worked for Jenny Craig—the weight-loss place—with grams of coke. By 10 p.m. I was wasted and most of the money I had made off the coke had gone to the bartender.
I also delivered cocaine around the city. I had a Honda 360, a street bike and would ride it to North Beach and go to the strip clubs and bars. I knew everyone. I’d also go to Hamburger Mary’s on Castro and hang out with Mary who was a huge bull dyke. She bought coke and supplied it to the dishwashers and the bus boys. I’d go to a steak house on Nob Hill, trade cocaine for food and eat a two-pound filet mignon. Another place I went to was the “QT” Bar on Polk Street, where a friend of mine named Charlie worked. He was a muscle-bound Mexican gay guy and the head bartender who took care of coke for all the others.
My Honda 360 was good vehicle for fast escapes; I could go up one-way streets against the flow of traffic. I got away a couple of times from the “po po” – that’s homeboy Oakland shit for cops. By then I was also selling marijuana, which I got from a rich gay guy who lived on Twin Peaks. Trevet Vermillion was his name; he’s dead now. I’d buy a quarter of a pound of weed for $800 and sell dime bags, which were a gram each for $15. Sutter and Polk was my corner, outside a Mongolian BBQ place. I’d hide bags all over the place —like in a safe place on the curb and around the tires of a parked car that wasn’t going anywhere fast. So I never had a lot of weed on me at any one time.
The cops would show up twice a week and tell me to grab the wall. If I had two to three bags they’d leave me alone. If I had ten to fifteen, they bust me and charge me with possession and intent to sell. I was arrested fifty times —no exaggeration. The cops all knew me. They say, “Munson, why don’t you get a real job.” Sometimes they’d let me dump the weed and not bust me. Other times I’d spend the night in jail and be ORed the next day and then show up later in court. Every time the case would be dismissed. They had bigger fish to fry than me with my dime bags.
This was when coke and crack were an epidemic and then also the whole AIDS/HIV thing hit San Francisco and guys began to use marijuana for medical reasons.
One of my favorite people was a great big hooker who was called “So Much.” I’d called her “Too Much.” She’d say “I’ll sit on your little white ass and crush you like a bug.” Every time I’d see her I’d ask, “You got my money?” She’d say, “You got my weed?” I met her every Friday night for three years at Whiz Burger on Valencia. She always bought an ounce for $250, northern California bud, the best around.
Trevet, the gay guy up on Twin Peaks, would go to Mendo once a week and buy pounds and then I’d buy one half or one quarter of a pound from him, break it down and sell it on the street.
I’d pay him in $10s and $5s, the cash I got from the kids. Trevet complained about the small denominations so the next time I went to the bank and got $800 in singles, gave it to him and said, “Shut the fuck up.” He said, “I get the point, but in the future try to bring me $20s.” I did try. At about that time I met my future wife, Ako; she was really unhappy with my drinking and drugs and was going to leave me and go back to Japan where she was born and raised. I realized I would lose the best thing I ever had. I stopped drinking; I got off coke.
We were married, got a Labrador puppy we named “Mellow Yellow,” and walked three to four hours a day in Golden Gate Park. The walks with Ako and the puppy replaced the bars and the drugs. I got a job in construction and told Ako that I wanted to become a marijuana grower. Trevet’s prices had gone up and I couldn’t afford to buy from him. I complained. He said, “What are you gonna do, grow your own?” A light bulb went on in my head. “Fuck yeah,” I said.
“So Joe, is all this true?” I asked when he came to the end of this account of his San Francisco days. “Yes, hypothetically,” he said. ¥¥
(Jonah Raskin is the author of Marijuanaland: Dispatches from an American War.)