Judge Santiago Burdon

Top Shelf Dope

Bonsai Bonecki, a high school acquaintance, called it purple microdot LSD. And by the look of the tiny pill, the name described it perfectly.  

Bonsai was explaining the effects, the time involved to get off and the expected duration of the trip. He acted as though he were a doctor or pharmacist giving out information on a prescribed drug.  

“I think maybe I should take two, being they are so small,” I suggested.

“No man,” he said. “This is Owsley acid, it’s gonna get you where you wanna go. Believe me, this is top shelf dope dude.” 

It was 1971, and from what I knew, Stan Owsley was currently in prison. He’d been busted in 1969 and sentenced to three years for possession of three hundred thousand tabs of LSD. Given this, Bonsai’s claim was dubious at best, but I decided to play along with this future used car salesman’s bullshit.

“Owsley acid you say,” I said. “Where did you get ahold of this? Nevermind, I don’t need to know.”

“No, it’s okay,” he said. “I scored it from a guy in Madison who was his roommate back in college. He just made up this batch last week and my buddy got it from him when he was just here in Chicago. Pretty groovy huh?”

I was never a big fan of the slang terms commonly used in the late sixties and early seventies. Whenever someone used those words or expressions, I felt as though I were in an episode of The Brady Bunch. ‘Far out’, ‘Can you dig it’, and the all-time cheesiest Greg Brady expression of all, ‘Groovy’. Okay, maybe I watched The Brady Bunch occasionally with my younger sister, but it was just to keep her company.

“Great story man,” I say. “You are a master of embellishment. Still, sell me a couple more for later. I may be inclined to up my dosage.”

“Sure Santa, how many ya want?”

“It’s Santi! You’ve been calling me by the wrong name since the first grade. You can refer to me as Santiago from now on. Give me four more. And I better get higher than Timothy Leary or we’ll have a problem. Understand?”

“Sure dude. I’m sorry Santiago. Who’s Tim Larry? Is he that sophomore kid with the long hair and the Camaro? I didn’t think he got high. That’s cool.”

According to the sales pitch street pharmacists have thrown at me over the years, I have been the recipient of a variety of exotic drugs from equally exotic places: Acapulco Gold, Michoacan Bud, Panama Red and various other strains of marijuana from as far away as Thailand. Cocaine from Colombia, Peru and Ecuador, every time it was “pure” uncut cocaine of course. Hashish smuggled in from Turkey, uncut heroin from Afghanistan and every country in Southeast Asia. LSD and mescaline fit for a connoisseur, medical grade speed and barbiturates. 

I however had tried the original Rorer 714 Quaaludes, so I may have known a thing or two about drugs myself. My cousin worked for Rorer as a salesman for a time. He stashed cases of Maalox and sample bottles of Quaaludes down in our basement. It didn’t take long for me to discover their value. I looked them up in my Physician’s Desk Reference. I started selling them at school but quickly had to stop after only two days. Kids were passing out in class, in the hallways and in the lunch room. It may have been  good advertising in a sense, but it was drawing the attention of teachers and school administrators as well. Seven times ambulances were dispatched to school in just those two days. Still referred to by students as the legendary ‘Quaaludes Class’ of ’71. After that, I only sold quantity to people I knew personally, letting them inherit the risk involved.

Truthfully, I don’t give a fuck where the dope comes from, so long as it gets me high. I’ve been disappointed more often than I’d care to admit, but my complaints always received the same response from dealers: “No one else complained,” “You didn’t do it right,” or “You’re full of shit!” In each case, the message was of course, “I’m not giving your money back.”

In this case, Bonsai may have lied about the origin of the LSD, but not about its potency. I verified as much shortly after taking my dose.

“Santiago what are you up to?” Bonsai asked. “Do you have any plans? I’m going to meet Lester, Joey, Janet and some others at the Plaza Theater to see Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Everyone is dropping acid for the movie. Ya wanna come with?”

His voice echoed, repeating every last word, changing pitch from a screeching high to a low booming bass. Every sound — car horns, music playing, birds chirping — all resounding with reverb. I attempt to answer his question, but I’m momentarily distracted by the movement of my hands creating light trails. The acid was coming on strong, but I couldn’t think of a reason to refuse his entreaty. Besides, it seemed like a really bad idea, so of course I agreed to tag along.

“Better leave your car and I’ll drive,” Bonsai said. “You’re pretty high. Nobody will mess with it here. They know it’s your brother’s car and he’ll kill anyone that touches it. Why do you have his car? Does he know you’re driving it?”

I’d been driving my older brother’s Studebaker Hawk at the time. A judge had recently ordered him to join the military if he wanted to be exonerated on the assault charges filed against him. Better than being sentenced to prison.

“Ya he doesn’t have any idea,” I said. “He joined the Navy and got stationed in Norfolk, Virginia.”

“Oh, I didn’t know that,” he said as we hopped in his Volkswagen Bug.

“Okay, let’s giddy up,” I said. “Hey I’ve got a question for ya, how did you get the name Bonsai anyway?”

“You don’t remember?” he said. “It was you that started it. Show and tell, first grade, Miss Elkin’s class. I brought in a Bonsai tree from home and you started calling me Bonsai Bonecki. It stuck, then after that everyone called me Bonsai Bonecki. I’ve always like the name too, you know.”

“I’ve gotta tell ya, I don’t remember any of that,” I said. “I’m glad you like the name though. Do you have your own Bonsai tree? Do you talk to it? I read somewhere that plants enjoy music and conversation.”

Damn I was high. As we cruised along, I opened the vent window, watching as the gust of air swirled with brilliant colors. The sunlight’s reflection danced on everything it touched. 

“Now I’m starting to get off too,” Bonsai said after awhile. “I dropped mine ten minutes after you. My legs feel like rubber. Do your legs feel like that?”

“What legs are you talking about?” I said. “My entire body is like Jello. I’m about to leave it behind and astral project. This shit is righteous, it’s magic, I feel like I’m floating.”

“Don’t flip out man, I’m high and can’t handle it right now.” 

“Relax Bonsai, I’m not going to freak out, I’m having a great time.” 

I look out the windshield, not believing what I was seeing up ahead.

“Bonecki, look where the hell you’re going!”

I had no idea how we got there, but we were presently driving on the grass median of the highway, headed straight for the central pillar on the viaduct. 

“Bonsai, hit the brakes!”

“This music is driving me crazy,” he says while fiddling with the dial. “I hate the fucking Archies and this Sugar shit song…”

On impulse, I grabbed the steering wheel and pushed it to the left, causing us to veer into the oncoming traffic in the other lane. Miraculously, we weren’t killed right then and there, careening past every honking car.

Flying over the embankment, we exited the highway and landed in the bowling alley parking lot. Bonsai still had one hand on the radio dial and the other on the steering wheel, with my own foot pressed on the brake pedal.

“What the hell just happened Santiago?”

“I think you became distracted and drove on the wrong side of the road, but somehow we survived unscathed.”

“That was crazy man! We missed every car!”

“Maybe I should drive, what do you think?”

I wasn’t in any shape to drive myself, but I assumed I could do better than Bonecki in his state. He never answered back, just sat there with the engine still running, the radio blasting.

“Hey Bonsai, I think I’m gonna walk. We’re both too high to drive right now. I’ll tell you though, this really is top shelf dope!”

I closed the door and walked away singing, “Ah, sugar / Ah, honey, honey / You are my candy girl.” Why on earth was I singing this song? I hated the Archies too.

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