The Hit That Refreshes
October 5, 2013 § Leave a comment
The Blunderbuss has always been intrigued by the origins and evolution of slang words and phrases, and has explored the topic previously here, with specific words like “dude,” and criminal slang in general. Think for a moment of the other meanings for “take a hit,” such as when your finances “take a hit”; when you or someone/something else suffers some other sort of setback; or as is the case in football or boxing, you literally “take a hit.”
Today we shall stick with the drug culture meaning. As far as Austin goes, what follows is the earliest recorded use of the phrase, which “hit” our local lingo shortly after the city’s first opium den did. It is not hard to see how this early usage of the phrase evolved into the current usage.
So, “Take a hit,” but “Don’t Bogart that Joint, my friend.”
August 19, 1886
How The Opium Smokers Hit The Pipe, And Its Wondrous Effects On The System.
What A Statesman Reporter Saw And Experienced While On A Visit To The So-Called Joints.
The moon had reached the zenith and was preparing to sweep down westward through the constellations. It was an hour or more after midnight. Quiet brooded far and wide over the city, and in the palatial residences, in cottage and hovel, the god of the night had exercised his wand with magical effect, and sleep held sway and ruled with gentle, but firm, authority. The streets were deserted and, with the exception of a policeman and a Statesman reporter, not a living human soul was on the Avenue. The policemen went north, the newspaper man south, stopping in front of a Chinese laundry from which a light streamed out over the sidewalk, the reporter saw in the front room, even at that hour, one of the almond-eyed sons of the flowery kingdom diligently at work, ironing a pile of shirts. The process was watched for some time and it would do scores of housewives good to see how deftly, neatly and rapidly the work is accomplished. But the reporter’s mission, at that time, was not to see the skill of the Chinese laundry man. It was far otherwise. He was on a voyage of discovery, hoping to enlighten and interest the readers of the Statesman. He was out to see how the “pipe is hit,” and if possible to show up some of its evil effects. The first he can, but the latter he cannot, for the very simple reason that if there is any really any evil effects following the smoking of opium, the custom is of too recent importation and confined to too narrow a limit in this city for the evil to show itself. The reporter heard voices in the room, in the rear of the one used as an ironing apartment. He boldly entered the door and passed through into the room where, to say the least of it, he was surprised. He had been a led, from leading reports, to believe that the interior of a Chinese laundry was one of filth and squalor. Not so. Everything was scrupulously clean; not a bedroom in this city more so. The one of which the Statesman writes was about 8 by 10, and in one corner, and taking of nearly the entire side of the room, was a bed neatly and comfortably canopied with a mosquito bar, which had two of its sides drawn up. On the bed were two Chinamen with a small spirit lamp burning between them. Both spoke English, one of them fluently. Although an entire stranger, and entering their private room unbidden, the Statesman’s reporter was received courteously, but neither of the Chinamen rose from the bed. He was asked to sit down, and to a question of how they liked to live in America, one of them, evidently an educated man, replied, “Oh, very well.”
“Are you smoking opium?” asked the reporter, as he peered over at the lamp on the bed. It was on a tray which contained, besides the unique lamp, a lot of long steel needles resembling darning needles, or more properly, crochet needles, a small tin box and a pipe.
“Yes, all Chinamen smoke opium. It’s a national custom with us, like smoking tobacco with Americans.” And he picked up the pipe and began to handle it. The pipe, the first ever seen by the reporter, for smoking opium, was of peculiar shape, the stem about two feet long by one inch in diameter, being of bamboo or some other cane growing in China. Both ends of the stem were of the same dimensions, with the mouth piece tipped in ivory. About two inches from one of its ends, the bowl, if it can be called such, was fastened. It was a hexagon pyramid about three inches high with the base, some three inches across, and inverted. It was made of hard clay, but some are of brass, and others still of wood with the crown covered with ivory or silver, in the center of which is a small hole about the size of a large darning needle.
“Do you want to smoke?” asked the kindly disposed Chinaman.
“How do you do it?”
“Oh, it’s easy. Show you how,” and the Chinaman picked up one of the steel needles from the tray and taking the small tin box lying near the lamp, opened it and inserting one end of the needle rapidly rolled the other between his finger and thumb. In a moment or two he drew it out with a small quantity of a black ropy substance with about the consistency of half cooked molasses adhering to it. This was the prepared opium and he held in for a moment in the blaze of the lamp where it sizzled and crackled and sputtered. He then kneaded it on the broad face of the pipe and again held it in the flame of the lamp and again rolled and kneaded it on the pipe. He repeated this several times, until finally he had a small ball of black looking opium about the size of a large buckshot, sticking to the end of the needle. He then inserted the needle and ran the point down into the bowl of the pipe and on withdrawing it the ball of opium adhered to the surface. He then placed the stem in his mouth and still lying down, turned the pipe and brought the opium in contact with the flame. He then drew six or seven deep inhalations, sending volumes of smoke through his nose. This exhausted the opium and he again resorted to the little box and went through the same process, but this time when he drew the needle from the pipe the opium refused to adhere to the surface. He replaced it on the needle and held it in the flame, and again kneaded it until it did adhere, leaving the needle clean and bright.
“Try it,” said the affable host, as he passed the pipe to the apostle of the Statesman, who at that hour, when the other preachers and missionaries were calmly snoozing, was down among the heathen, trying to find out something about their habits.
“Try it,” he repeated, as the reporter hesitated, “try it, it no hurtee you.”
In the interest of science and to satisfy a curiosity peculiar to all reporters, the Statesman scribe concluded to do so.
“Get on the bed,” he said, as he made room and threw the newspaper man a pillow, “you must lie down.”
A reclining position is necessary, so as to reach the lamp with the pipe, which must be held in the flame as long as the pipe holds out, for in the instant it is removed the opium ceases to burn.
The reporter did as directed, and down among the heathen (?), reclining on one of their cleanly beds, while all about him civilization and the police men slept, he hit the pipe.
It was a difficult job, but under the direction of the Chinamen, the type was exhausted at just six draws.
The smoke was rather pleasant to the taste and free of irritation of any sort, not withstanding it was ejected through the nostrils.
At the time it had no effect, as it requires at least two or three pipefulls to affect a novice, while those accustomed to it can and do smoke from 12 to 20 at one siesta, or one “hit.” Inveterate smokers will smoke, the reporter was informed, as high as 60 pipes, such as described. And it can be smoked at one “hit,” until you go to sleep, but this is not the effect generally saw.
It affects persons differently, except in two ways. In all the tendency is to create a desire for more, and when once a man succumbs to its power there is no antidote except the drug itself. At least so say the Chinese. There is more than one pleasure connected with opium smoking, some of them voluptuous, sensuous, fascinating and captivating. One of among the greatest pleasures derived is, after you go to sleep. Then it is that you go off in to dream land and roam among most enchanting scenes, and revel amid empyrean pleasures. Whether or not it is injurious to health, is not for the Statesman to say. This is left for the doctors. There is very little opium smoking in this city, and it is confined exclusively to certain classes. There is one public joint in the city, and it is run by a white man.