As Dave Goldstein took a rip off his new bong, his first thoughts drifted to the law.
I'm going to need a patent lawyer, he thought.
Goldstein can claim the percolator and the ash trap as inventions—two of the most important creations in the last 40 years of weed. But he realized in that moment that he'd just made his best bong yet.
That hit back in April 2011 was the easiest one Goldstein had experienced in over 35 years as a daily toker. A chalky white smoke passed through his new fritted-disc bong and through a frothy filtering foam that looked like tiny bubble wrap stuffed into a clear glass chamber. It then landed comfortably and smoothly in his lungs.
Before that hit, he thought his newest creation was just a gimmick—another cool-looking percolator that would serve up the same cooled shots of smoke he'd become known for during his long career as a bong blower. "It brought laboratory technology to the smoking world and changed the game," wrote ERB Magazine.
Speaking about what he now calls the Rooster Apparatus, as it compares with his previous inventions, Goldstein says: "It's like holding a candle up to a thousand-watt halide. I mean, if anybody remembers me for the original percolator, great. But this is what I'll go down in the history of hippies for."
It's different enough from bongs that came before it that YouTube is currently larded with hundreds of videos made by solo, dorm-room experimentalists, awed at the milkiness of the foam as it climbs the tube. "I know i've been putting alot of videos of the Goldstein up," writes user Nish ATX. "I had to do this video to show y'all the close up on how much the fritted disc perc stacks bubbles, literally hits my mouth each hit." The honeycombed glass bowl is packed with marijuana. The user lights and inhales, and immediately a tower of tiny stacked bubbles begins to filter the smoke on its way to the lungs.
Goldstein came up with the idea while having a conversation with a friend about how scientific modern bongs had come to look. But after he saw the bongs, Goldstein disagreed. He had experience with the real thing, when he blew glassware for chemists at the University of Maryland. "I kind of scoffed," he says. "You'd never see any of this stuff used in an actual laboratory. If the object of the day were to scrub a gas with a liquid, you'd see a fritted disc."
A fritted disc is a glass filter made of many fragments, fused together so finely that it's impossible to suck air through at lung pressure. Chemists often use them to purify gases.
The Rooster Apparatus, a bong named for the Chinese calendar year of Goldstein's birth, was developed to use the same technology but allow the user to suck through it at lung pressure. The idea is simple: To get the best filter and smoothest hit, you want the tiniest bubbles possible. Smooth hits are something a certain breed of bong designers has been working toward for years—without getting close to what a Rooster's disc accomplishes.
"As far as the smallest possible bubbles you can get, this is the best scientifically accepted way to do it," he says. "After this, the honeycomb [percolator] is probably the next best in filtration, and you don't see laboratories ditching their fritted discs for honeycombs." Comment rooms fill with supporters—and with people who say the Rooster diffuses the smoke so much it's almost too pure to have flavor.
Most 20-something lathe artists differentiate themselves by how pretty their bong is. Goldstein's trump card is real lab experience. He got his start at a glass-blowing shop called Odyssey Glass in the mid-1970s while working toward an environmental economics degree at the University of Maryland. In 1976, when he says he invented the ash trap, it was just a way to change his bong water less often while living in his parents' basement.
But after paraphernalia laws started to tighten under the Reagan administration, Goldstein quit Odyssey, walked into the scientific glass shop at the university and asked for a job. "I managed to wrangle myself a few semesters of Chem 386: Laboratory Glass Blowing," he says, "a class in which I was the only student." After graduation, Oregon's lax pot laws drew Goldstein to Portland.
By the early 1980s, when Goldstein bought a glass lathe and started making bongs here, he had another cool invention to show Oregon from his days at Odyssey: the percolator chamber, which cools down a bong's smoke to a more comfortable level. "Boy, I sold a lot of them in the '80s," he says. "That was back in the days of rubber stoppers." Based on the number of bongs he's sold, he figures he's personally responsible for over 50 million bong hits.
But the number he's most proud of wasn't reached until he sent a couple of Roosters to the labs at MEI-Charlton in North Portland. "The surgeon general in 1963 had suggested that water filtration may remove carcinogens and antigens from tobacco smoke," Goldstein says. "I figured it's in my best interest to resolve this question. MEI came back with the Rooster, removing as much as 10 percent of the poly-aromatic hydrocarbons from tobacco smoke." In other words, the Rooster actually filters up to 10 percent of the cancer-causing substances in smoke. Goldstein got his patent application approved this December.
"If imitation is the most sincere form of flattery," he likes to say, "then innovation is the most sincere form of criticism." Since the history of the bong intersects so tightly with Goldstein's own, it seems he's mostly critiquing himself.
Willamette Week's Annual Weed Issue, 2015