I looked around and I was the only one close to my age in the store, and the other guy of my generation was sitting behind a counter staring at a cheeseburger on the plate in front of him. Just staring.
I’ve been driving by the store in Springfield for years and in my naiveté I’d never thought to ask anyone what was inside. I assumed it was and older version of Toys R Us or maybe a record stop. When a couple former students of mine told me it was a head shop selling marijuana related items I became curious. “But don’t say the word, ‘marijuana’” they warned me. “They call the stuff tobacco products.” I was hooked. . . I mean with curiosity. I had to see the place for myself.
So my two young assistants, Cheech and Chong, took me on a tour a couple of weeks ago. The place looked a bit colorful on the outside and looked as if it had been there for some time. When I opened the door I had a flashback to the 1960’s. . . not Viet Nam, but my Illinois College dormitory.
I was one of those innocent farm kids who came to Illinois College after only having read about the illegal weeds that grew along our farm roadsides. In fact, in my four years in college I saw little evidence of the cannabis cocoa puffs that were becoming so popular in the nation even though as head R.A. of one of the male dorms I’d been schooled in how to sniff out the wacky weed.
The aroma that wacked me in the face at the Springfield store that night was something you might encounter at a French perfume shop. I never could see any smoldering incense pots or lovely French sales clerks so I assume the place had installed a very tasteful air conditioner. The décor was somewhat different than a perfumery as every inch of available space was covered with the sights and sounds of the sixties. . . wild, tropical shirts, eye-popping pajama bottoms, glow in the dark posters, decorative glass wear, the finally “the room.”
This was the part I was especially keen on inspecting and Cheech and Chong assured me that no danger would befall me upon entering. I was reminded the words of Mark Twain when he first encountered Nevada Territory as he said, “This was no place for a Presbyterian so I did not remain one very long.” The room contained about a thousand instruments to puff your “tobacco” on, through, with, above and below. The centerpiece of the room was a sort of hookah pipe listed in the thousands of bucks. I knew that smoking was an expensive habit, but golly Aunt Polly, that’s a big bucks belt. One of the most interesting sales exhibits was a display of ways to disguise your smoking habit as there were pipes and containers masquerading as breath minutes, Marlboro cigarette packages, and Purell hand wash. Talk about a way to get Grandma’s hands clean while making her miss her Bingo game and increase her appetite!
There seemed to be a great demand from people who like to smoke their Lucky Strikes through water as the locked displays contained some of the most beautiful glass carvings I’d ever seen, each complete with a water bowl at its base. I can’t imagine sticking one of these in your pocket then sneaking across the street from Passavant to have a smoke break. Perhaps there are hydrants over there.
Other exhibits featured “tobacco” pipes that were lit electronically and there was even a digital model that the sales clerk told me was unreliable. He said, “Stay away from anything digital. They just aren’t accurate.” I couldn’t figure out what accuracy had to do with Camel cigarettes, but he was the clerk and I was merely a confused member of AARP. Frankly, I began wondering what I was doing there, the other customers were wondering what I was doing there and I think the store clerks thought they were being raided.
The boys and I ended our evening without purchasing any tattoos or tokes, took a pass on the “Grateful Deadly” ointment, and traveled down the street to the Ultimate Grand Halleluiah Buffet followed by my first visit to the new Hy-Vee store and it’s tempting delicatessen. My brother told me later that it’s unwise to visit a head shop then look at food but I was a naïve and innocent customer and my sushi didn’t move when I tried to eat it.
I’ll admit that the Beatles’ “Judy in the Sky with Diamonds” rattled around in my head a bit as I went to bed that night but the ceiling didn’t move. At my age that’s progress.