Dec 252009

I met Jim Hogshire and his wife Heidi sometime in the early 1990’s. If I remember correctly, Mike Hoy of Loompanics tasked Hogshire with writing an article about our sideshow for the Loompanics catalog. Hogshire had published a particularly controversial book for Loompanics entitled Opium for the Masses, whose major premise was that people were mistaken in assuming that ordinary ornamental poppies were somehow different from “opium poppies”, and thus contained nothing that could get you high.

Ordinary poppies DO contain psychoactive drugs, in fact Hogshire was correct in his assertion that most if not all species of the genus Papaver contain phenanthrene alkaloids which include morphine, codeine, and thebaine.

To my way of thinking, the publication of his book would open the floodgates of people growing or buying “ornamental” poppies to get high. I figured it was one of those things that was too good to last; once the “secret” got out, the game would be over. Much to my surprise, this didn’t happen.

I found Jim and Heidi to be charming and intelligent people, but they both wrestled with significant personal demons.

I haven’t seen or talked to Jim or Heidi in more than 10 years. Over the years I’ve been tempted to write down all of what really happened, but the bottom line is that for all three of us, undignified things happened, and everything ended poorly. There is no real value to be gained in exposing undignified things that happened years ago.

But I’m writing this now because I understand that Hogshire’s book has been republished, this time by Feral House.

In all the chaos of that time period, one incident really stood out for me, an incident that fundamentally changed my perception of the Seattle Police Department, and the criminal justice system in general. The following is a slightly re-worked comment I made on Metafilter in a thread that was later deleted.

Yeah, I was there back in 1996 for whole Jim and Heidi Hogshire fiasco. Jim and Heidi were the first (and perhaps only) Americans ever arrested for possession of dried florist’s poppies.

It’s a long, long, story, and I’ll tell you just a part that changed my view of the criminal justice system forever. When Hogshire was arrested the police confiscated his M1 carbine, various other items, and his dried poppies. His wife was also arrested, though she never even drank poppy tea.

The Hogshires were immediately evicted from their Capitol Hill apartment, here in Seattle. Heidi stayed in Seattle, but Jim went on the lam. After a long time, Jim was able to find pro bono legal representation and the charges were dropped. Jim was still back East, and called to have me go pick up his confiscated items.

So I go down to the courthouse and get put through the whole rigmarole. Thankfully, I was able to transport all his gear by myself in one trip. As you can imagine, everything was packaged in heavily wrapped newspaper, and even the carbine was thoroughly disguised. It was weird walking through downtown Seattle carrying an M1 carbine…

Hogshire wanted me to double check the manifest of what was seized during the raid on his apartment with what the cops actually returned. I carefully unpacked all the stuff on my living room floor. There wasn’t all that much stuff, really. One M1 carbine whose serial number I double checked, a bunch of stuff I don’t remember, and three scales. The scales were, of course, “drug paraphernalia.” One scale was a Dillon Precision triple beam balance, used for reloading. Another scale was some sort of prosaic kitchen scale for weighing out spices and whatnot. The third scale I didn’t immediately recognize. It had an electrical cord coming out, so I assumed it was electronic. But I saw no “Tare” button, or even an on-off switch. It was flat and square, but with a small circular disk on top which I interpreted as some sort of pan.

Then the moment of epiphany.

The Seattle police department had seized and booked into evidence as drug paraphernalia a COFFEE MUG WARMER.

 Posted by on 12/25/2009 Personal History Comments Off on Jim Hogshire and the SPD Epiphany
Dec 222009

Around Thanksgiving 1993 the sideshow was in Dallas, TX. It was kind of freaky, as it had recently snowed, and there were still traces of snow on the ground. It was a surreal setting for performing on stage and celebrating Thanksgiving.

Part of my act was lighting a string of firecrackers on my bare chest. I’m afraid I can’t claim to have invented this act; I read about prankster and artist Joe Coleman doing this spontaneously in bars, just to shock people. I thought it would be adaptable to sideshow, so I became the first performer to do it in a sideshow setting. Some years later I met Joe Coleman at a COCA event here in Seattle. I told him that I had adapted his stunt for sideshow. His response was wordless; he took the cigar he was smoking out of his mouth, grabbed my hand and deposited ashes into my upturned palm. I still don’t know if this was a “fuck you” or a “good job, guy.”

The string of firecrackers had to have some sort of backing, or else they would totally tear up your skin. I had an old piece of Kevlar that I had obtained through dumpster diving. It must have been resin impregnated, as it was already stiff. I cut it to fit just slightly smaller than the outside edge of the firecrackers, so the audience couldn’t see it. The firecrackers would be taped to the Kevlar, and the Kevlar would be taped to my skin. Eventually I realized that even a thin sheet of ABS or polyethylene would do the same thing, and I’ll bet that’s what most of the performers who do this stunt today use.

Even then, some of the firecrackers would explode near my chest, and would leave burns and abrasions. But what really worried me was if one should go up my nose and explode. Thankfully that never happened. The greatest part of this stunt was doing it inside morning drive-time radio studios. I would have a tee-shirt on and wait wordlessly until the end of the program. Then I would whip off my shirt and light the firecrackers before anyone could do anything about it. Some of those morning drive-time radio DJs had the biggest egos I’ve ever seen…

Doing this stunt meant that I had to have a dependably functional lighter with me. I don’t smoke, but to this day keep a disposable lighter in a belt pouch with me at all times. This behavior seems to confuse a lot of people. Being sort of a pyro anyway, I kind of liked it, and would collect more butane lighters then I could possibly ever need. I still have many of them.

During our short stay in Dallas, I scored big time, by finding the coolest lighter case I had ever seen:

I regret that over time it’s become a bit mangled, as I used it continuously for a while there. It’s one of those things that should have been put away in a safe and never touched except while wearing cotton gloves.

My last tour with the sideshow was in 1994 in Scandinavia. We performed in Stockholm, and it just so happened that ZZ Top was in town at the same time, promoting their new album “Antenna”. I had actually met Billy Gibbons in 1992 in Texas during Lollapalooza. I was standing around in a hotel bar when Marky Ray, at the time a technician with Ministry, walked up to me and said “Billy Gibbons wants to see you”. Wow! I walked up and said hello, and he asked me for one of my condoms. He took one out of its package and unrolled it. He then proceeded to do a magic trick with it, making it appear as if it went from his mouth to his ear through his head! Bested in a condom stunt by Billy Gibbons!

Billy came backstage before our show in Stockholm. He spoke to us at length about sideshow, and it was obvious that he really knew his stuff, and had lived through the golden age when sideshows regularly toured the South.

Perhaps the greatest moment of this episode was when I asked Billy; “what’s that Pearl Necklace song all about?”

After our show, all three members of the band came backstage. I pulled out the lighter case I bought in Dallas and showed it to Dusty. He instantaneously fell in love with it, and wanted to buy it from me. I could tell he REALLY liked it. But I loved it too, and I wouldn’t budge. In a way I’m glad I kept it, because now, after all these years I can photograph it and share the photograph with everyone. But I also regret not having giving it to Dusty, that would have been cool, too.

 Posted by on 12/22/2009 Personal History Comments Off on The Lighter Case
Dec 182009

Here we are almost at the end of 2009 and there is no clear consensus as to what to call this decade.

The most common term that I’ve seen in my own un-scientific perusal of the Internet has been “the aughts”. I should like to argue that this term is exactly backwards, as a quick perusal of the OED will show. The commonly held belief is that “aught” means “nothing” or “zero”. A common example of this is the voicing of the name of the 30.06 rifle and round; “thirty-aught-six”. “Thirty” being the caliber and “aught-six” being the year of introduction.

Unfortunately this is a misnomer, although a very deeply ingrained one. The word “aught” actually means “something”, not “nothing”. Here’s what the OED says:

A. n. (pron.) Anything whatever; anything. In interrogative, negative, and conditional sentences.

The term “naught” is uncommonly used in the United States. What Americans call “Tic-tac-toe” is called “Noughts and Crosses” in the UK. “Nought” is a variant spelling of “naught”. As I’m sure you can infer by now, “naught” means “zero”, or “nothing”. Here is the definition per the OED:

A. pron.
1. Nothing, not anything; = nought pron. 1a. Now arch. and literary.

So if your decade ends in two zeros, it seems to me that it should be called the “naughts” rather than the “aughts”.

But decades are often given additional descriptions, usually in retrospect; “the roaring twenties” and the “swinging sixties” come to mind. Being that we are near the end of this decade I believe the retrospectives can safely begin. I should like to propose that this decade be called the “supernaughts”, a term which should also please Black Sabbath fans.

 Posted by on 12/18/2009 Opinion Comments Off on Aughts and Naughts
Dec 172009

A recent article that appeared in Martin Gardner’s column Notes of a Fringe Watcher reminded me of an incident that occurred to me when I was in high school. This is a comment of mine that originally appeared on Metafilter.

I used to watch the national evening news on TV with my father virtually every night from about 1968 until about 1981, when I moved into the dorms. I remember watching the evening news broadcast somewhere in the late 1970’s which reported that the WHO had announced the eradication of smallpox.

The news in and of itself was mind blowing to me, even as a high school kid, as I had no idea that an eradication program was even in effect. I knew enough about the history of epidemic disease to know that this was an absolute milestone in human history, the epidemiological equivalent of putting a man on the moon.

But then my father dropped an even more profound bombshell on me, rather casually in fact. “I had smallpox.”

This was astounding, as even then I knew that Jenner had come out with his vaccine in the late 1700’s. By the time my father was a child, the smallpox vaccine was commonly available. The fact that my father survived smallpox, growing up in Butte Montana in the 1930’s, amazed me further still. He showed no scarring that was visible.

“Why weren’t you vaccinated?” was all I could think of to ask.

“My parents didn’t believe in it.” I still couldn’t understand, as I suddenly started having to make a bunch of inferences. My father is an emotionally private person, and many things I’m very curious about I just don’t ask about. He’s Irish, so I had to assume his parents were either Catholic if religious, or atheist. My father is an atheist. As far as I know, the Catholic Church has never opposed vaccination, though they are, of course, saddled with a boat-load of other irrationalities…

So all I could gather from my father was that my paternal grandparents opposed vaccination on some sort of nebulous anti-government, anti-medical establishment, anti-something-or-other irrational reason.

So when I hear about people who oppose vaccination all I can think of is “Yeah, my father contracted smallpox because of people like you…”

 Posted by on 12/17/2009 Growing Up In Montana Comments Off on Bill Maher, The WHO, and Smallpox
Dec 152009

The following list is actually a repeat of a post I made to the JREF back in late 2007. Being that several of my predictions came true in 2008, I’m going to stick with a winning game plan. ‘Cause a winner never quits and a quitter never wins…

1. Cell phones with amazing new features will appear on the market.

2. Early frost will threaten Florida or California orange groves, causing TV anchors to warn viewers that the price of orange juice may go up.

3. This one guy will go from total obscurity to national fame virtually overnight.

4. A well respected female Hollywood celebrity will shed her clothes for a magazine photo spread. This event will be announced as “news” and not simply celebrity publicity.

5. Large retail sales will be continue to be referred to as “clearance events” and not “sales”.

6. The United States will produce a bumper crop of a major agricultural staple.

7. A record setting pumpkin will be grown.

8. A pumpkin will be “chucked” a record setting distance.

9. Courtney Love will be in the news again.

10. And here is my biggie: A railroad tanker car laden with a noxious chemical will derail and breach, necessitating the evacuation of a small town in the deep South.

 Posted by on 12/15/2009 Opinion Comments Off on Psychic Predictions For 2010