Primer Highs

Posted: December 10, 2012 in The Road to Skid Row

“My buddy had some mushrooms growing on his floor, right? And one day we ate it… and man. I was like, ‘where the hell am I, man?’ And you know what? The next month, he blew his fucking head off! Yeah. His brother came and found me in a bar and told me. Don’t worry, I can paint and talk!”

Bobby was in the early stages of a primer high. He had been breathing in epoxy-based primer for ten minutes; in fifteen minutes he would be shouting like a maniac. If Bobby excelled at only one thing it was talking. Bobby shared tall tales from his past every day – memories from school, dead friends, drunken near-misses with the law. He went on and on, rarely pausing for more than a minute. A day on the boat passed quickly when he was around. That was why I liked him.

Tall, oafish, with a big beer belly and huge hands – that was Bobby. His brother Johnny was the skipper of a neighbouring sport fishing boat. Bobby lost his driver’s licence from a DUI, so he stayed with Johnny most nights because he couldn’t get home. There were days when Bobby showed up with bleary red eyes and I wondered if he was drunk.

He took a liking to me and gave me a burger and fries once. Before I finished working on the boat he invited me on an overnight fishing trip to Catalina. I couldn’t make it, but we agreed to go out fishing when I got back from the UK. Deep down I knew I wouldn’t be back anytime soon, and I’ll probably never see him again. But all that happened later.

One day we were working above deck together. I was sanding planks of wood – all I did was sand – and Bobby was using a blowtorch to burn the anti-slip matting off the deck. Bobby had lent me his gloves not long after I started working on the boat so he was using the blowtorch barehanded. When I noticed this I insisted he take them back.

In-between blasts of the blowtorch I heard a radio ad for Kaiser Permanente and I asked Bobby if he had health insurance. I was curious what would happen to him if he had a accident with the torch – in a gig like this, you’re bound to slip up sooner or later. “No, I can’t afford health insurance,” Bobby said. “I can barely pay my rent.”

The most remarkable thing about Bobby, aside from his stature and garrulousness, was his complete lack of teeth. Bobby did not have a single tooth in his mouth and gummed everything he ate. Come to think of it, Norris was short on teeth too– half were missing and the rest were a dark tobacco brown.

Fifteen minutes later and the high was kicking in.

“Woooo! Woooo!” Bobby screamed below deck. “Ah hahaha! Woo-girls! Woo-girls! I love the woo-girls!”

Thankfully the skipper had me painting above deck, where ocean breezes carried the vapours away. We weren’t using your average household stuff here; this was marine grade primer, the paint equivalent of mescaline.  You can’t just slap this paint straight on a surface; you have to mix it with reducer first, giving the buzz to the high.







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