“I’m looking for a bong,” I told the clerk, a woman in her early twenties with clear blue eyes.
The place was The Den, a business in downtown Iowa City that sells, from the first floor, soda, snacks and Hawkeye apparel to the University of Iowa crowd. While the ground level is chips, cups and all things black and gold, the second floor is pipes, papers and all things for smoking pot. Well, officially, the stores sells alternative devices for smoking tobacco to avoid getting in trouble with the law, but I’ve yet to see someone puffing on Bull Durham from a one-hitter as they were called in Chicago in my youth or a dugout as they are called today here in Iowa. Both then and now, here and there, the store is called a Head Shop.
Shoppers can browse through an impressive array of pipes made of glass, metal, wood or even stone and fashioned into all sorts of shapes. Want a puff from a magic dragon? There’s a pipe that looks like one. There are also hookahs and bongs of every description and size, rolling papers, grinders and clips. There’s even one section that looks like a display you might find in a hardware or grocery store offering Flair felt tip pens, Tide laundry detergent and gallon cans of Sherwin Williams paint but all is not what it seems: each has a false bottom or secret compartment to hide your stash of, um, American Spirit tobacco.
Why marijuana is illegal while alcohol and cigarettes are sanctioned is a modern age irony. It is a rare pot smoker who gets high and beats up the spouse, and no evil scientists have worked on producing joints that are addicting like cigarettes, damning the health consequences. True, pot smoking has given us some strange politics– for example the people who support Newt Gingrich for his Christian family values must be high on something really good– but we’ve been living with that for a long time.
But it is illegal, and the reason I was in the market for a bong was because Sabra and I were invited to a murder mystery dinner. Over the years we’ve been to several and enjoyed all of them. Usually there’s some theme based on the time and place of the action. Once we went as cowboys for a murder on a ranch, and another time like jet setters for a hoity-toity wine tasting party. Participants dress up for their parts, read prepared scripts and then everyone tries to guess “who done it?” The theme for this most recent party was the late 1960s. Sabra went as Burnette Dabra, a women’s libber who had organized a bras across America burning. I was Phillip Mebong, a handsome, suave, urbane pot smoker who was irresistible to hippie chicks.
Type cast again.
So I was shopping for a bong to be part of my costume. I assumed the half dozen or more other customers were in the store for the same reason, there must have been a lot of mystery dinners that weekend. The clerk showed me quite a few models but none seemed to fit the bill. The glass ones were too fragile, the metal too heavy (I planned to strap it around my neck) and most were just too expensive. Just as I was about to give up she pulled an orange plastic one out that sold for under $20.
Sale, but no senior discount.
I got the bong home and rigged up a strap so I could hang it around my neck when I noticed the bowl was missing. I was pretty sure there was one in it when I bought it but it was nowhere to be found now. As I approach 60 years of age I notice this happens more and more. Things that were right at hand one moment are gone the next. So back to the store I went where I told the clerk that I had gone home, invited my best friends over to see my new bong only to discover the bowl missing. I’ve got the missing bong bowl blues I told her but she didn’t even crack a smile.
Have to run, Sabra said something about painting the front door and she’s rummaging through the paint cans in the basement.