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Kratom: You Mean Water Pipe 3

I get into the rhythm quickly. Selling product, polishing bongs, dusting shelves, checking ID’s, keeping an eye on people. I sell other vaporizers, but not yet a Volcano.

It is summertime and things are slow because all the students have gone home, unless unlucky enough to be stuck here for summer school. I like this as it means more visits from the local townies, and Berkeley has a colorful group to present to us. 

I’m glad that we don’t sell the equipment to consume hard drugs.

The head shop across the street does. A crack addict comes in looking for a stem and I direct them to the other store. Angel is still polishing pipes, her head below deck. We always have to have two people on shift because of the risk factor. Head shops attract people doing all sorts of illegal things. Every time I deny anyone anything there is tension, even if I am denying the product because we don’t carry it. This guy leaves quietly.

I hear stories from Brittney and Crystal of them having to dial 911, but I never have anything worse happen then barring someone who doesn’t have their ID with them and them storming out, upset. Luckily our door is impossible to slam.

I am slowly selling a bottle of painkillers to Brittney.

I’ve had them sitting around for years and she’s willing to buy them at five dollars a pill. She comes by my house for them at about five to ten at a time, and always has some excuse. Her shoulder, her back, her boyfriend’s back, her boyfriend’s dental work, once she even claims she will crush up half a pill because her dog landed wrong jumping off the porch and has a sore hip. I don’t mind her, but the fantasy she weaves makes me nervous and mistrustful. Luckily she is always in a big hurry to go once she gets the pills.

The days pass quickly at the store. I sell product, smile at the customers, clock in and out, and am trained to open and close the store. Finally, I make commission, I easily pass the test but it takes a while for them to process the paperwork. I begin trying harder to sell higher priced items, especially the Volcano, but other than a few three hundred dollar bongs I mostly am selling the cheap bongs from China, and pipes. 

Pipes are what most people come in for. I like banging our Schott glass pipes on the hard wood of the counter (but not the glass display) to show how durable and resilient they are. It almost always results in an immediate sale. Once Angel does that and the pipe breaks, and slices her hand. The customers get scared off and don’t buy a pipe. Angel and I have a good laugh about it while I’m pulling glass out of her finger with a pair of tweezers.

Chuck and his brother show up now and then to check in on us.

Eventually I realize that Erin is Chuck’s girlfriend. They spend most of their time at the SF store, so it’s always a little alarming to unexpectedly see them. They see e-cigarettes as the next big moneymaker and want us to be heavily promoting the vape goods. All of us are skeptical, this is Berkeley, people smoke weed. They come here looking for pipes – the name of the store is “Headz”, not “Vapez”. Still, we do our bidding. We’re supposed to have one around our neck at all times. 

From their encouragement to test the products, I learn that I am among the unlucky who have a propylene glycol allergy.

It only takes about three or four puffs of the nicotine free versions, just to taste the different flavors, before it makes me have cold and flu symptoms and feel like my throat is closing.

The vegetable glycerin base doesn’t do that, but now I associate e-juice with that feeling and am not interested in testing the rest of the flavors. They all taste artificial anyway. The low income, rural population comes into town to get their e-juice every weekend. They are the ones that seem to enjoy vaping the most. I can usually tell if a customer is coming into the store for nicotine-related tools or THC-related tools.

We sell hookahs as well, and shisha and blunt wrappers, but no actual cigarettes. It always feels odd to me selling nicotine laden products, whether shisha or e-juice, to eighteen year olds.

It’s often so obvious to me that they are just trying to buy cool.

I like handling the bongs the best. There’s something very satisfying about polishing bongs. Their shape, the motion, the ritual, it all makes me happy. What doesn’t make me happy is my hair and clothing reeking of incense. In my short durations in the store before I was hired I didn’t realize how much it bothered me. When it comes time to clean and re-arrange the shelves, done daily, I avoid the incense shelves and let others handle it.

There are differently scented incense sticks in mason jars with their name on a label taped to them, and they drop their scented dust onto the glass shelving below. They smell soapy, like cheap chemicals. My throat is raw from breathing in their stench. The Mad Scientist makes me disrobe in the garage and immediately shower at the end of every shift, to keep the smell of the oils clinging to my clothing and body from contaminating our house.

We’re still quietly living in a ranch house at the end of a dead end rural yet suburban road in Sebastopol, CA.

There’s an acre of a backyard, and the Mad Scientist is growing vegetables and herbs in boxes there. We have room for all of our projects and our hobbies and each of us have a room to ourselves in the three bedroom house. There isn’t much passion, but it’s peaceful and the years are sliding by.

Speaking of the advance of time, it comes time for my ten year college reunion. I drive to Claremont, California to attend. It’s a letdown, with no one that I remember in attendance. I graduated early, on the fast track to a degree at nineteen, and so spent only two and a half years in college – those that graduated with me are not who I spent the most time with.

I’m bored and lonely, and in my infinite wisdom I finally try the powdered kratom I’ve stolen from the store, after having tried it in tincture form at work and finding it mildly pleasant.

The powdered form is not mildly pleasant. I am at first manic and introducing myself to everyone and then very soon after puking in the dorm room bathroom of the room that I used to live in. I’m lucky the current occupant left the door unlocked and doesn’t discover me. I wander around the grounds for a bit afterwards trying to sober up, looking in on my old haunts with emotionless distance. 

I’m woozy and detached for the rest of the event. I never did any drugs until after college, everyone there knows me as the sober girl and doesn’t see me drinking now (I wouldn’t want to mix alcohol with kratom), so no one notices that I’m high as a kite.

Kratom is a leaf that’s been chewed in Southeast Asia for centuries.

It contains naturally occurring opiates, and it produces a unique high that in small doses is chatty and an upper, and in larger doses it is a relaxing downer. The girls at work take it constantly, all of them. I’ve watched Brittney ring herself up for a case of the tincture. The reunion is the only time I dabble in the powder, and the last time I take kratom. I don’t like things that have steep dosage responses. 

I sell kratom daily at the store. It’s enlightening to see the cross-section of the population who come in for it regularly, and intermittently. People who use kratom break down into some well-defined segments. The majority of the people I see are those that are mentally ill, for whom pharmaceutical medication isn’t working, or for whom it’s not an option for whatever reason.

These are using kratom to control their symptoms. The population I see is mildly schizophrenic, or schizoaffective, or bipolar.

The second largest user group are those working in manual labor who couldn’t do their job without the painkilling relief provided by the plant. These I don’t have much insight about as they aren’t chatty. They are in work clothes, on their way to or from, and they get their packets, get their rewards card stamped, and leave. 

The next largest kratom user group are opiate addicts looking to kick, or to supplement their use of pills or heroin, or just for something to keep them well when something else in that family has run out.

From this I learn that there is a lot of heroin in Berkeley, and that there are a lot of people on heroin whose use is invisible to your average person on the street. I also see the anxious, looking for something to calm them, and insomniacs, who swear by kratom to sleep. The smallest user group are the occasional users looking for a party drug, who generally buy the tincture and use it in very low doses for extra energy and a chatty night out. 

One night a pair of crew cut, pudgy, butch lesbians in leather come in. They are smart and soft and humbly ask me many question is about kratom. They tell me it is for their friend, who is kicking a heroin addiction again after hearing that Fentanyl is going around and being scared they will end up dead. The two lesbians, the friends, believe in natural medicine and don’t see why their friend should go through so much discomfort, but they don’t want to prolong the experience for them or enable them by allowing them to choose the dosage.

We work out a protocol together, I break the rules and share the information I’ve gotten online with them. I don’t regret it.

To Be Continued…


(If you like “You Mean Water Pipe” please buy a copy of my first book, Down and Out in California, or support me on Patreon for a free copy)


Head Shop Job: You Mean Water Pipe 1

No B Words: You Mean Water Pipe 2


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