From the Archives: Johnny Bob Discovers Nitrous Oxide (1976)

By Johnny Bob
Nitrous
Courtesy High Times

The first thing I want to do before I become involved in the relation of my story is thank all the High Times readers who wrote in and asked for another of my stories. The publisher was very pleased, although I was a little scared, as some people wrote with green crayon on red paper and talked about weird things. The publisher gave me some money to write another story, and I have spent it on a color TV here in New York. One of my friends said that was just like an Indian to do such a thing. All I can say is I kind of wish I was back on the reservation just for a visit so I could get some of my relatives to come over and smash it. Hate to do it myself. Cost me a hundred nicks, and for that kind of money I can get more entertainment in my head. END OF THANK YOU, BEGINNING OF STORY.

“Johnny Bob Discovers Nitrous Oxide.” I don’t like that title. After all, I didn’t discover nitrous oxide. It was the Englishmen who owned half the world, leased a third of the rest and had enough money to support farmers’ sons who liked messing around with glass bottles and explosive mineral powders on their 52 weeks a year of free time.

I don’t begrudge them their free time, but I would like to point out that a hell of a lot of scientific discoveries were supported and paid for by Johnny Bob’s ancestors, who were busy swapping beaver skins, real estate and shiny yellow shit they found in rivers for wax candles, colored glass and some other shiny yellow shit that later turned out to be brass buttons.

I guess we all play a part in everything.

Take this nitrous oxide. It comes in a big blue tank that looks like some kind of torpedo and outweighs this Indian by about ten pounds. Nevertheless I can lift it, but it makes my spine crackle and I see sparks behind my eyes, which to a mystic might say something about God but to my doctor (who charges only five dollars per visit because he has been drunk and, I’m sad to say, addicted to morphine for 14 years), it says crushed vertebrae. Same thing happened to my cousin Jack Bob when he lifted the engine out of a fish boat when he was drunk in the Queen Charlotte Islands in British Columbia. Jack Bob got a backache that kept him in bed for two years until his wife kicked him out of the shack and cured him. I guess we all play a part in everything. It got me in trouble with a woman once, that kind of talk. So did the nitrous oxide, but all I can say is that it’s a hell of a lot better to be in trouble with a woman than without one, and let’s let it go at that.

As you readers know who read my first story, I am a Nootka Indian. (We were discovered by Franz Boas.) I was born on the Queen Charlotte Islands in British Columbia, which is pretty goddamn isolated. I was 13 when I saw my first white woman and I almost shit. I didn’t know there were any. All the white men I had seen before were married to Indians. I left the islands when I was 16 and since then I’ve just been rolling around trying to spend at least two hours a day in bars and as little time as possible in the bucket.

Since I’ve come to New York, which my friends who were born here tell me is the greatest city in the world, I’ve seen a lot of things, some of them, thank God, imaginary. I found out that down here people call negroes “jigaboos,” which is what the lower grade of white man used to call us Indians up in Canada. These negroes are a new one on me. Never saw one till I got to Vancouver some years ago and then, I mean what I say. I saw one. Jesus said all men were brothers, not just negroes and Indians, and if you believe that particular story, you’re going to wind up pretty confused because a lot of your relatives will be out to screw you up.

Since I’ve been in New York I’ve been hanging out in an Irish bar. All we look at is each other’s drinking habits and they think I’m Irish. Which brings me back to the nitrous oxide stuff. It was given to me by this reformed criminal who’s set himself up some kind of a weird ball-business operation in N.Y. which seems to be working out pretty well for him judging from the number of 16-year-old chicks he’s got around his office pretending to be secretaries. He gave it to me on the advice of a certain editor at High Times who’s probably going to sweat out a few demons when he reads this as he’s been chased around the rosebush by so many nares, landlords and litigants that he likes to pretend that he doesn’t exist except as an unlisted phone number. Anyway the idea was to give Johnny Bob a tank of nitrous oxide, and not only would he go so crazy trying to describe the effects of the drug that he could be paid off in brass buttons, but he would turn in 20 pages of words arranged in some kind of order that made sense. As for me, Johnny Bob, I said why not. I’ve come a long way since I smoked my first joint with Big Wave Dave in a freight train outside Kamloops, B.C. I’d done almost every drug you could name, most of which you couldn’t while you were using them, and I wasn’t afraid of “heavies” since I saw a bunch of mindblown Berkeley acidheads kill a cat and drink its blood 50 miles from the place I call Nowhere-on-LSD. The Berkeley battery acidheads tried to get me to drink a cup of cat nectar. They said it would break down the final barriers, free a lot of powers and make me one of them: which is to say. not a hell of a lot. The only power I noticed it gave those fuckers was the power to scare the shit out of a lot of people I enjoyed drinking with and the power to incite normally relaxed cops into a weird madness. There was a lot of talk about it giving you the power to disappear and do other tricks, but the only place I ever saw one of those dirt bags disappear to was the brain ranch.

My Aunt Bessie Bob who was mystically inclined (she often spent the winter at the priest’s house eating canned food and watching his TV) has told me stories about the old Indian religions. Our religion. It’s the best, if your kid asks you who made the world, what are you going to say, “I don’t know,” and watch him piss on the spot, or are you going to say “The great Raven made the world,” and laugh about it? You think about it, I’ve got a story to write.

So, indirectly and I won’t repeat this in any court, High Times arranged for a cylinder of nitrous oxide to appear in my N.Y. apartment. Personally I think they would have done better to present me with a typing chair, but far be it for me to interfere with publishers’ minds as long as I can mess with their wallets.

Day 1

Thoughts on the subject: This gas comes pressurized in a cylinder. So did the propane that fired the stove at the logging camp where Johnny Bob pulled rigging and raped the environment. I wonder if the nitrous oxide has been cut with propane. A phone call to a party who should know says no, this is not possible and please not to bother working people with silly questions.

My confidence restored, I return to the tank and fill up my third balloon with nitrous oxide. I fill it too full and it explodes in my face. I think about the Indians who fell at Wounded Knee. They were roused by a medicine man by the name of Wokova, these Sioux were. Wokova told himself in a feverish state that all dead Indians would arise when he gave the signal. Unfortunately, he told a lot of other people as well, many of them desperate enough to believe him. They took to ghost dancing, which they believed would give them ghost shirts that would turn a bullet. The seventh cavalry demonstrated that this was not the case at the massacre at Wounded Knee. People get killed in wars and kind words turneth away bullets. Sure it was our land, but if you want to start worrying about who owns what you might as well start worrying about the Jews who haven’t lost what may not be theirs but who will as soon as Arabs have more to pay off with. My friend Screaming Jimmy Diesel the country and western star (maybe you’ve heard of him) doesn’t think the Israelis will get the boot. “No ’Rabs going to be able to pull that off. If they put the squeeze on the Jews you’re going to see more pills that turn water into gasoline and atomic camel howitzers than there are mites in a Bedouin’s caftan.”

But back to the nitrous oxide. This wasn’t the first time I’d run into the gas….

I’d been living at the Commune of the Seven Raids in Vancouver B.C. Canada for about two weeks when I got my first job. Working in a gas station. It was the most disgusting job I’d ever done and that includes cleaning enough salmon to make a machine puke.

Some people say you have to start at the bottom and work your way up. I’ve always felt more comfortable starting in the middle and just drifting around. Once I drifted up to president of the Matthew Graphics Detective Agency and Pornograph Motion Picture Studio. That’s another story.

The job interview was a pretty big deal, especially since I was applying for the privilege of checking other men’s tire pressure in the pouring rain. The first thing Mr. Merkin the owner asked me was whether I knew Chief Dan George. I guess he wanted to know if I was a highclass Indian. Who cares? I told him the chief shot moose from helicopters. I don’t know if it’s true or not, but my Aunt Bessie used to say so when she was sober.

I told him I did know a few other chiefs but frankly most of them weren’t much good for anything —unless you were looking for a quick way to convert a lot of cheap wine into piss.

He allowed as how he didn’t care much either way, and went on to say that if I worked hard I’d probably be a fine gas station attendant one day.

“Some of our boys have gone on to be managers. Some—I’m sad to say —have been arrested for stealing from the till. Remember, you’ll do a lot better with us than against us.”

As a general rule I’ve found that to be true. Take the case of Great Bear, for example. My mother, Susy Bob, used to tell me about the time Great Bear got drunk, beat up some other Indians and went out into his field and began shooting his cows. No Indian would lift a hand to stop him. Great Bear was stupid and crazy mean.

A horse cop came along and decided he was going to arrest Great Bear. The fact that Great Bear was shooting his own cows did not salt much salmon with the Mountie who was determined to take him in for drunk. (Back then Indians weren’t allowed to drink by law. They were supposed to turn their drinking money over to missionaries so the missionaries could convert more Indians.) Well, Great Bear didn’t like jails, sober people or cops and he wasn’t too happy about anything else. He blew the Mountie’s heart out his back and dumped him in the Skeena River. A couple of weeks later the soldiers showed up and hung Great Bear and a few other Indians. Better off with them than against them, you might say.

One of the guys who worked at the gas station, “Gorno” Sarkisan, was a big drug dealer. At least he said he was. The only evidence I ever saw was a tank of nitrous oxide that he ordered when the mechanic was out. We had a pretty good time with the tank, but when the bill came in Gorno went out. It seems as how Mr. Merkin and the other gas station biggies weren’t into running that kind of a gas station.

When the tank was delivered I helped Gorno wheel it into the lunchroom, then he went across the street to pick up a package of super-stretch party balloons. It wasn’t long before we were as close to the Godhead as you can get without decomposing. I had this really weird kind of a dream.

An old Indian chief appeared before me squatted on the floor.

“Who are you?” I said.

“I Chief Burning Nose. Wahoo Indians. We very old tribe. We extinct now.”

I took another blast of nitrous and the skin on my forehead started tightening up like a congressman before a grand jury.

“I Chief Burning Nose was the big dealer of the Wahoo tribe. On the day I was born a squaw OD’d. The same day two braves saw an unspeakable vision of enchanted buffaloes that left them as vegetables. I was born without a septum, and the midwife who delivered me had a nosebleed which lasted half a moon.”

The sweat was popping out on my forehead. I looked over at Gorno but his head was tilted back like a bent street sign and the gas was hissing softly from the balloon in his limp fingers.

I looked at the chief, who showed no signs of disappearing.

“Chief, your words sound brown to me.” The chief became very offended.

“Chief your words fall on my ears with all the truth of the screaming pneumatic lug wrench at work in the shop next door.” In fact, the chief’s words seemed to blend into the high-pitched rattle of the lug wrench and his figure grew wavy and took on the form of Gorno’s coat hanging on the back of a chair.

I was fucking glad he was gone. I inhaled deeply on my balloon trying to think of other things. Screaming Jimmy Diesel, the cowboy singer who lived at the Commune of the Seven Raids, was going to court that day on charges stemming from an ad he placed in the paper.

“Screaming Jimmy Diesel’s Poodle Euthanasia Center and Dynamite Club of BC. Canada. Now forming new club. For details phone 687-4233.”

The response was better than even Diesel expected. Unfortunately, among the people who responded were two RCMP agents and three members of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

At the first meeting in the Gastown Inn one of the SPCA people became enraged at Screaming Jimmy’s remarks about the intelligence of poodles, and assaulted the country and western star. The cops joined in and Diesel kicked one in the face. Big Wave Dave and his deaf girlfriend watched helplessly as Diesel was dragged off by the cops.

Charged with assault, Diesel responded by engaging the services of Sid “the boy wonder“ Felderman, a friend of Big Wave Dave’s and supposed to be a fucking good lawyer, if there is such a thing. Anyway, it seems that the only good thing the boy wonder could dig up about Screaming Jimmy was the fact that he had once coached a soccer team.

The cops who had been booted in the head by Diesel were sitting in the front row of the courtroom. The boy wonder was up before the judge waving his arms around. Big Wave Dave was in the back of the courtroom watching.

“Your honor,” said the boy wonder, “you are looking at a young man who once coached a soccer team…”

“Yeah,” said Big Wave Dave, “that’s why he can kick so good.”

The judge ordered Dave out of the courtroom and Diesel was held over for another two weeks.

So I was thinking about this crap when Chief Burning Nose decided to reappear.

‘‘I Chief Burning Nose. My job to watch over all stoned Indians.” Shit. Judging from the number of Indians I knew that had fallen asleep on the railroad tracks the chief wasn’t doing much of a job.

“I watch you Johnny Bob. I saw you get blow job from white squaw. You think you pretty cool Indian until you go back for seconds. Hah-hah.”

This was getting fucking embarrassing. I had met this girl a few weeks ago at the health food co-op. I don’t go for that rich hippie horseshit but I was looking at this movie list they have in there. She walks up to me and starts laying down a loony line about Indians and natural foods. She offered me a ride home and I took it. She invited herself into the house and about three minutes later she was giving my root a tongue bath.

That night I was invited to dinner at her parents’ house. I’ll never do that again sober. As soon as we sat down at the table she started trying to tell her old man that he was “hung up” and “uncool” and that Indians were really free and where it was at. She kept getting more and more excited, practically screaming at her father. I didn’t help much. My hands were shaking and her little brother pointed it out.

“Oh,” said the mother, “I’m sure Johnny’s a little nervous. It’s probably some time since he sat down to a nice family dinner.”

“My hands haven’t shook like this for years. I must have a touch of the Snakes.”

“Oh, the Snakes. What are the Snakes?”

“That’s what you get sometimes when you drink too much. The Snakes. The fears. You know.”

She didn’t want to say anything but finally curiosity got the better of her. “Do you ever actually see snakes?”

“Fucking right,” I said, “had ’em real bad once. Came right down my sleeve when I was watching TV.” She stared in horrified fascination.

“Well what did you do! Did you jump up and scream?”

“Nothing you can do. They’re not really there, you know.”

Louise’s voice cut through the stillness. “Well Daddy. Johnny is the only man whose sperm I’ll drink! Sperm drinking is a very sacred thing!”

Oh fucking no. Her old man began changing color. It was horrible to watch. He clutched at the tablecloth and it slid a few inches to the right. I was watching his hands, the knife next to them and the door. Finally he said. “Leave the room everybody.” I started up but he said. “Not you Johnny.”

It wasn’t pleasant. He told me it wasn’t really my fault and that he wasn’t angry with me or anything but that even so she was still pretty young and that he tried to be a good father and that if he ever saw my fucking brown ass again he’d tear it off and use it for a doormat. I told him to shove it and left.

I sat in the bar for the next several hours thinking things over. When closing time rolled around I picked up a six-pack and headed back over to her house.

I was feeling pretty good. I figured I’d go back, sneak in, and leave no orifice unplowed. No god damn bespectacled piss-drinking accountant is going to keep Johnny Bob away from a girl.

The front door was open. I slipped in and headed down the hall toward where I thought her bedroom was. I wound up in her little brother’s room. He fuckin’ well woke up.

“What are you doing here, Johnny?”

“Shhhh. Go back to sleep quiet.”

Jesus! I slipped out of the room and stood in the hall listening. All was quiet. Then I noticed that I had shit my fucking shorts. Beery slime was starting to run down my leg. I cracked every knuckle on my right hand and darted back out the front door. Cursing softly I ripped my pants off on the driveway and threw my shortful down with a splat that could be heard for blocks. A dog started barking. I jumped back into my pants, hastily wiping my ass with a handful of grass, and ran down the block.

The next time I saw Louise she told me her little brother had a dream that same night that I was in his room and that it probably had something to do with the power of my Indian spirit.

“You know what else is weird?” she said. “Daddy found a pair of dirty underwear and a six-pack of beer on the driveway the next day. He had to move them to get his car out to go to work in the morning.”

Day 2

Back to the present. I have written nothing about nitrous oxide. One note pinned to tank after a blinding flash of enlightenment says: Zen in a can. I go to the High Times office. Some dispute there about a practitioner of black magic sharing an office with a practitioner of white magic. Seems like a good idea to me. My friend and editor asks how the story is coming.

“I really got it down man. It all takes place in this gas station where I worked once. I have to do some tricky stuff with the time-space relationship but nothing too difficult for a dope sucker to follow. Plus there’s this great story about how I got my first white pussy. Sort of lurid mysticism. Maybe a car accident. I’ve been in some good ones…”

We go to lunch. I tell him I think N2O is like zen in a can. “Far out, man, why dontcha write it down.” I ask him what he thinks of N2O. “It’s like a businessman’s high, man. It’s over quick. Like, uh, it’s a drug.”

I go home and take nitrous oxide for four hours. I think about an old girlfriend. What kind of a girl would walk out on a helpless vegetable? Unfortunately, I decide, a smart one. I turn on the television. Keep filling balloons. Johnny Carson is making jokes about Ed McMahon’s drinking habits and the band smoking dope. “That’s sad,” thinks Johnny Bob.

I keep taking laughing gas and watching Carson. He is a very wealthy man. If I ever meet him I will ask him for a loan. I’ll call it rent for the Indian land. He’ll laugh and give it to me. Just before I fall asleep, the TV starts talking back to me and my responses become a part of the entertainment. Sometimes my responses are incorrect and they seem to laugh at me. Sometimes theirs are and I laugh at them, Hollywood viewed. Guilt and atonement. I mumble, and turn off the gas and the TV, and go to bed. All bullshit.

Day 3

I wake up. The homos who live upstairs are having a terrible argument. They scream, swear and throw things. “Aw you don’t mean any of it really!” I shout out the window. “Fuck you!” says one. The argument is over. As I cook my egg I congratulate myself for saving an unnatural marriage. I wonder if there are any Indian fags. Well as Billy Two Jobs used to say back in the Charlottes, “I’m not saying I haven’t fucked goats, but I’d never live with one.” Who gives a shit? If a man can’t run his own pecker there’s not much hope he’ll ever be able to do anything more complex. It’s all part of the same thing, I decide for the one hundredth time. I’ve got a piece to write on laughing gas. I decide to talk to my friend. He gave me a job sweeping up when I first came to the city. I owe him a favor. Is it a favor? Or is it all part of the same thing again ? Huh?

Friend: Wow this stuff is really … it’s kind of like…

Thought: Missing breakfast? Sunstroke?

Johnny Bob: This chick I know said she thought it was a real death trip, the closest thing you get to being dead. She’s convinced death is just like being high on gas.

Friend: I don’t know. It’s kind of like the first time I was high on … it goes! Doug Doug Doug.

Johnny Bob: Maybe it’s kind of like a mirror? You see yourself and your projections but like only for a minute. The fucking TV was talking to me the other day, did I tell you that?

Friend: Dentists use this stuff? I don’t see how they could pull your teeth out without your feeling it.

Johnny Bob: Take two balloons and I’ll pull your teeth out. It knocks you out. Like ether. Doesn’t make you sick, though.

Friend: What’s the chemical composition?

Johnny Bob: N2O. It’s not the basic building block of the universe. Too bad. That would make a good story.

Thought: Maybe N2O is the atmosphere reversed. That would be almost as good. It isn’t though.

Day 4

Can’t stand the tank in my house any more. Mere presence is enough to depress a Dixie congressman with ten gins in his gut, a floozie on his lap and three years’ term to run. I decide to take it up to the office where I am employed as an Indian.

“What the hell is that stuff?” ask my coworkers. “Laughing gas. I couldn’t stand it around my house.” We take it, laugh and take pictures of ourselves. The boss comes in. “What is in that big can?” “Laughing gas.” “I want it out of here. Come on, I just told Peter to get rid of the dartboard yesterday. Nobody’s doing any work.”

Day 5

“What?” says my employer, a leader of the Jewish community. “Is that thing still here? If you don’t get it out of here today I’ll throw it out myself.”

“No you won’t,” replies angry Indian, pausing for effect. “You’ll get a negro to do it for you. It weighs 200 pounds. A blue visitor from another universe.” I feel like a shit. Boss tries to lift the can. “Well, I don’t care. Just get it out of here.” I borrow five dollars from him for cab fare to haul the pig-iron prick full of pressurized brain damage out of there. Still haven’t paid him back. Must make a note of that.

I hauled the ashcan full of inhalable dog karma down to my favorite bar, the Tears and Stitches. “What is that?” said my bartender and creditor, Peter. “It’s that nitrous oxide I was telling you about. You said it was OK to bring it down here.”

“Did I? I don’t remember…”

I rolled the dental assistant out back. I filled a few balloons. I encouraged patrons to try the gas. A few did and none liked it enough to try it again… Peter the barkeeper liked it even less than the people who actually tried it.

“Fucking hissing makes too much noise. Can’t you put it in a closet?”

I rolled the pressurized swami farts into a closet. I sat and drank for a few hours, regretting the passing of girlfriends, time and wind. Then I ran into a few hack writers, talented people who will probably ask me to dinner after reading this. We were discussing drugs when I happened to mention there was a tank of nitrous oxide in the back of the bar, in a closet, sucking wind.

With many clever asides about other hack writers who weren’t present at the time,we made our way to the back of the bar and filled our balloons from the tank.

Johnny Bob watched the happy, colorful crowd of well-dressed, overpaid boys and girls expecting the pall of the gas to settle their happiness. To prove it as false as the words of the white men who (…..), and as this Indian sage has come to realize, most people fulfill your expectations of them. A pall did begin to settle, especially after Peter the bartender strolled back and informed Johnny Bob that he wanted that tank of pig burps out by tomorrow. That was the sack of silage that broke the old war horse’s back. Johnny Bob informed hack writers that they had applied their lips to the nozzles of diseased dogs, stomped over to the bar and threw his drink in the garbage can, hoping thereby to insult the bartender upon whose credit he had been drinking for weeks, and left the bar. Once outside he discovered he had forgotten his coat and went back for it. Couldn’t find the cocksucker. Shit. Johnny Bob went home and worked on his death ray, may it never be perfected.

Day 6

Called up ex-con whose name may not be revealed, for as we all know there are two sides to the law, both of them wrong, and he is on the wrong side. He agreed to haul the can away. He was actually pleased.

Day 7

I rested.

Day 8

Everything was OK again. Heaven, as the popular Protestant song goes, is in your heart. The End.

Note: If you want still more Johnny Bob stories, keep those postcards coming in to High Times. To the girl who wrote the postcard with no return address on it asking where she could write to me, I got it. Thanks. JB.

High Times Magazine, June 1976

Read the full issue here.

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