Trying to explain an early millennium California head shop job to an alien:
Well, it’s a store that only people eighteen years or older can go into that sells paraphernalia for an illegal drug. Well, the drug isn’t really a drug, it’s a plant that grows like a weed that gets people high. Also, it’s not fully illegal, it’s legal if you have a medical condition.
Well, actually, all you need is a note from a medical doctor saying that you have a medical condition, and because the law isn’t very specific there are medical doctors in business specifically to give out these notes for anyone who will pay the nominal fee it takes for the doctor to take their pulse, give them the cold stethoscope, and test their reflexes.
And there are also shops in business specifically to sell the drug-plant to people who have these notes. But those are called dispensaries, not head shops. Head shops exist to sell the tools to use the drug-plant. But you can’t actually go into a head shop with the intention of buying the tools to use the drug-plant. You have to pretend that the tools are for another drug-plant, which is far more deadly, and legal.
I am in the hippiemost part of Berkeley visiting a friend when I see the help wanted sign hanging in a local head shop, called Headz.
There are stickers on the window, and beautiful, artful glass sculptures of grasshoppers and octopi and a throne that don’t look like they could be smoked out of, but all are designed to be used as pipes. I go in to see if they have parts for my Volcano.
The Volcano is the king of cannabis vaporizers. Using it the government proved that there was no carbon monoxide produced in vaporizing with it, and therefore it’s classified as a medical device. It’s just a compressor and a heat block, but it’s a precision machine made in Germany, and together these produce a bag full of perfectly tuned herbal vapor. It’s the BMW of vaporizers. I’ve switched to vaporizing because the Mad Scientist demanded it. He didn’t like kissing a smoker, and didn’t like having smoke in his house. I find that I prefer it now, for those reasons, and because I just like the high better.
The Mad Scientist and I have opened our relationship and I am in another long term, long distance relationship of sorts with The Madman, after meeting him again at Burning Man and not remembering our trade of mushrooms for weed so many years before. It floods back to us soon enough.
The shop does have the Volcano parts, but they are very expensive. The young woman behind the counter is chatty and friendly. She’s brunette, bone thin and petite, wearing black jeans and a black tank top with the Headz logo, and a black bra. She wears thick makeup over pockmarked skin and has a slight shake to her.
“You have great dreads, you should work here!” she exclaims, snapping her gum.
I look around, thinking out loud “It is very clean in here.”
It’s true, it’s one of the cleanest head shops I’ve ever seen. There are multiple head shops on this block in Berkeley – and there is one directly across the street called Jabberwock that is dingy, and dirty, and not well-organized. Headz looks like what you’d get if you crossed a novelty store in a big city mall with a chemistry laboratory.
“It is, and it’s a great work environment. Lots of fun girls. You should come on board, Chuck would love you!” she ducks under the glass counter, filled with pipes, and comes back up with a job application.
“Just fill this out and drop it back here.”
I know that I will not drive the hour from Sebastopol to drop off the application. “Can I just fill it out here?” I ask, without revealing where I live. I’m afraid it might be too far for them to want me for the head shop job.
“Sure! Here’s a pen SiStar!” she says. She seems like a redneck who thinks I’m a hippie and is making nice. “I’m Erin, just give it to me when you’re done and I will totally hand it straight into the boss.”
She grins and bends under the counter again. Her long, dark red nails come up wrapped around a Dunkin’ Donuts coffee cup. She takes a swig and puts it back under the counter. I wonder what else is back there.
I fill out the application, very quickly. Leave it with her and am surprised when I get voicemail from Chuck from Headz a few days later. Call him back and he asks me if I have reliable transportation and if I’ve ever worked in retail. I lie and tell him that I have.
He offers me the head shop job at nine dollars an hour, plus commission which kicks in after one month if I pass a test. The commission is fair, the more I sell and the better I do in a month, the higher the percentage. It starts at three percent. To me even that is an incentive, as I know now that the Volcano goes for six hundred dollars at this store. Selling Volcanoes becomes my mission.
I tell him I’ll take the head shop job if I can start in a week, because now I’m on a ranch in Mendocino County…
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