In my pot-smoking days of the early 1970’s marijuana was a lot like Tupperware – it was passed around at parties and purchased with great enthusiasm. Pot was so pervasive back then, all you had to do was breathe in and there was a chance you’d get high. Some people didn’t want to take that chance. They were fearful of this “reefer madness.” Then they’d try it, and suddenly, it was reefer gladness. Their transformation was not done with smoke and mirrors – it was just smoke.
From ages 10-14 I partook of the giggle smoke whenever my elders were around. Now these weren’t parental-type elders. These were just elders who were older than me – older than David-the-Younger. Older, and more importantly, they had pot. It was like elders with benefits. The 1970s were a less judgmental time when you shared what you had without distinction of rank or age (thank you very much Woodstock generation). And from almost 50 years hence I recognize the following strange story might give the impression I’m high right now. I’m not. Except for a few salmon, David-the-Elder hasn’t smoked anything in decades.
In revisiting my cannabis memories, I’ve reanimated that familiar fuzzy state and in the process activated one mother of a flashback. In this case it’s a harrowing incident I’d like to share with you – an incident that is a constant reminder of the importance of choosing the right parents. Of course, as far as I can tell, children have never been consulted on the matter, so it’s a moot point. But what’s a valid point is that you have to play the hand you’re dealt: or, more specifically, the body and circumstances you’re born into. Once the veil comes down…Game On. And this episode I present is just one volley in that game.
This flashback has enduring power and has taught me to practice eternal vigilance. It’s not that I’m forever suspicious, I just try to be aware of my local circumstances – to see around the corners of my actions and anticipate their consequences. And although this bizarre yet authentic tale may sound like the product of a THC-influenced imagination, I once again assure you, David-the-Elder has NOT been smoking anything mind expanding – unless you want to count the salmon. But remember, no matter how much salmon you smoke, it’s just waist-expanding, not mind-expanding.
I’m Not Going to Pot…Yet
My marijuana escapades were brief and playful until they became vexing and menacing. In the beginning I appreciated pot’s ability to make me feel like I was standing about 6” from myself. Maybe that’s why whenever I smoked pot I was absolutely beside myself, but only by about 6”. It wasn’t quite an out of body experience. It was more like being Siamese twins.
Whatever unearned recreational joy weed provided in my early years, by the age of 14 I had no choice but to stop smoking the Devil’s Lettuce due to the riptides of paranoiac insecurity and unhealthy introspection it unleashed in me – vexing indeed. For sensitive types, this phenomenon is known as Joni Mitchell Syndrome. I was looking at life from both sides now and it wasn’t a perspective David-the-Younger could reconcile. I had to stop. But not quite yet. I could still deal with pot as a playful partner.
In my pre-panic attack summer of 1975 (8th to 9th grade) I was earning money at the glass shop which enabled me to buy my first and only dime bag of pot for $20. I bought it from an elder – 23 year old Wil Junes. Wil was a tall, hedonistic and entrepreneurial guy appreciated for both his business savvy and his porn stash. Just like at a Tupperware party, we passed some around and I purchased it with great enthusiasm. After scoring my weed, I examined the little twist-tied Baggie Wil presented me (this was in the pre-Ziploc bag days) and wondered how so many stems and seeds could cost so much money. He agreed with me in a not especially helpful way and that ended our transaction.
I didn’t care about paying full retail. It was pot and it was mine. That bag lasted me the entire summer and afforded me a pleasantly distorted window on the world I couldn’t get through normal channels. Why it was called a dime bag and why it cost $20 I’ll never know. This reminds me of a David Letterman interview with Seth Rogen where he naively asked the pot guru, “Now where would I have to go these days to get a dime bag?”
And Seth puckishly replied, “Gee, I don’t know Dave, …maybe to the 1970s.”
Well these were the 1970s and during that one summer I herbed-up regularly. I inhaled so often I celebrated the day when I didn’t smoke, because I’d be able to come down a little and then get to experience the joy of actually getting high again; instead of just being high. In 1975 I called this hazy time My Summer of Huh. But despite the satisfaction of eating an entire pumpkin pie or staring at my cat till I could no longer tell who was who, the high life just wasn’t for me. The worm began to turn and I could forget about “mellowing out” on marijuana. In fact it began to have the opposite effect. I used to stare at myself in the mirror until my reflection started doing things I wasn’t doing. Sometimes I’d get thrown into a panic imagining a world without Oreos.
I Was 14. These Were My Circumstances.
Those neurotic flights of fancy aside, for now (July 1975) I was in a good place with my buddy, marijuana. My usual pot smoking ritual began with putting in a hearty half day of fortifying work at the family glass shop. Why a half day? Because at the sleep-gorging age of 14, during summer vacation, there was no way in hell I was going to get up at 8:00 am to go anywhere, except the bathroom. Actually I would get up at 8:00 am – 8:00 am California time, making it 11:00 am in Syracuse. 11:00 am was more like it. That way I’d get to work near lunchtime; which, if you think about it, is a great way to start the day – especially if you’re still high from the night before.
I always enjoyed laboring in the family glass & mirror works. It was a privilege being part of mom and pop commerce while also servicing a few high-powered corporate accounts like Carrier or Crouse-Hinds that actually used official POs (Purchase Orders) to buy stuff. I dug the dichotomy immeasurably. And after working like a dog that hard day’s night (mandatory Beatle reference), my long-divorced and out-of-the-house father (Bill) would drop me off back home before returning to his “quarters” at the glass shop where he might spend the evening playing pin the tail on the fraulein with his German immigrant girlfriend Heidi. Yes, my father lived in the back of a dusty old glass shop in a lonely industrial park making him an early adapter of working from home (you can’t make this stuff up).
At this point only Dot (aka my dear and long-suffering mother) lived with me, but she worked swing shifts at a state facility supervising mentally handicapped adults where it was difficult to tell the residents from their keepers. Since my older siblings (my elders) had flown the coop and my mother worked late hours, I was usually alone.
Cut to my comfortable small house: a 936 sq. ft. 3 bedroom 1 bathroom dwelling with a partially built-in basement. The basement (or cellar) was my domain. It was technically a 1 bathroom house unless you counted the utility sink in the basement I used at night when I was too lazy to go upstairs. Anyway, after putting in my 5 whole hours of labor I could usually be found ensconced snugly in the only house I’d ever known. If it was after 5 pm, I’d likely be in the mood for some mental recreation. Since many of the people in my life were liabilities, I reveled in the pleasurable simplicity of my company, so usually my pot sessions were solo.
Anticipatorily (maybe a word, maybe not) I proceeded to ritualize my festive and hallowed psychoactive space. I set up my pipe, lighter and dwindling supply of weed on a bookshelf near the front porch door so I could blow the smoke out the screen door and generally keep an eye on things. The outside area was somewhat shaded by a lilac bush and a magnolia tree so my illicit act was mostly camouflaged from prying eyes.
Things Begin to Heat Up – Literally
Meanwhile I’d multi-task by having a Swanson’s Hungry-Man Frozen Dinner working in the oven. I’d try to choreograph the intoxicating event with superb éclat. I’d time things so they all came together in a heartening crescendo of earthly delights. First I’d go into the kitchen to place a TV dinner in the oven and set the timer (a very wise move for someone who’s about to get high). Second, I’d go back into the living room where I’d toke-up and enjoy my high while watching Star Trek; which at that time was the only generation Star Trek there was. A perfect, time-honored combination – dinner and a movie. What a “spacey” show I thought to myself. Then I realized what I had just thought: Star Trek…a “spacey” show, and I’d start giggling. Oh how the humor bar is lowered when you’re high.
I’m deep in the moment in what has become my impeccably organized, splendidly elevated and very red-eyed world. The oven timer dings and I charge salivating into the kitchen to retrieve my beautifully compartmentalized Hungry-Man dinner where every portion is flawlessly contained in its own shallow grave. I peel off the aluminum foil expecting to behold a hearty smorgasbord of gustatory delights – just like the “serving suggestion” picture on the box. Instead I get a clump of Southern-greased chicken, crinkle-cut lymph nodes, shoepeg yellow possum teeth and some kind of cobbled together apple dessert that had the nerve to bubble over outside of its assigned crypt.
Hungry-Man Dinner…Take me away
It didn’t matter. In my altered state of “munchie” I visually upgraded this prison food to a Michelin 3-Star dinner and it’s simply breathtaking – and it’s all for me. I transport my sumptuous repast into the living room to finish watching Star Trek, and as this monument to empty calories sits steaming on my lap, I pounce on it. In a frenzy of semantic redundancy, one hungry man, devours another Hungry-Man. Oh, I may mock my Hungry-Man dinner, but I ate it “all gone” till I could see my reflection in the aluminum tray. Thank you Swanson’s. What a nice thing to do for humanity. I mean Mother Theresa’s work with the poor was admirable. But at that moment, this flower of frozen food technology deserved a Nobel Prize.
Pot smoking and multi-tasking can be a good combination if you’re disciplined enough to turn the oven on; something I forgot to do once. After the timer sounded, David Pavlov (me) dashed salivating into the kitchen and hungrily opened the oven door to reveal my delectable Hungry-Man dinner. Reveal it to be just chilling there on the rack, in a still partially frozen state. “Nooo! Damn you all to hell,” I wailed. No Hungry-Man for David. Instead, Hangry Man for David. But usually I remembered to light the oven and I often had quite the peak experience sitting in the living room, high as a kite, watching Captain Kirk chew the scenery while I chewed my dinner.
To top off my sensual summer session, I might visit nearby Sheridan Park for some semi-serious pick-up basketball games. There’s nothing quite like recreating the mind and the body. Sometimes I’d get stuck reading in a chair, caught up in a loop of finding other worldly significance in the 4-color print ads in Time magazine. I’d sit and stare slack-jawed at a Campbell Soup ad till I could practically taste the “M’m! M’m! Good!” tomato soup. It seems there was an entire Soup Universe I had no idea existed. And that’s what I liked about me. I was good company. Oprah was right: “The most important relationship you’ll ever have is your relationship with your self.”
The Actual Dreaded Event
Set and setting are an important platform in determining one’s experience and I dearly want to provide some indicator of the mind-altering forces at play, at that time, in that space during my Summer of Huh. There I was in 1975 looking at the trees in the yard. Trees that seemed to be looking back and whispering, “Dude, give us a hit of that.” The passing vehicles appeared to have a half-life as they drove by my house; never seeming to actually leave my sight as they continued their journey to wherever it is cars go. I’m enjoying this theater of the absurd and in complete agreement with Bob Dylan’s pot anthem Everybody Must Get Stoned. This was all entertaining and funny stuff. But it wouldn’t be for long.
On this particular post-work pot smoking session that Summer of Huh in 1975, I was about 2 bowls into the scene when something wholly unexpected and very frightening happened. It scared the living bejesus out of me and, until then, I didn’t even know I had a bejesus in me. The adrenal surge of flop sweat caused by this momentarily dreadful incident possessed the power of an exorcism, and may account for why the bejesus departed my body.
It should be mentioned that my 48 year-old mom (the aforementioned Dot) was dating a 33 year-old Syracuse Police motorcycle cop named Dirk Blastfence. That wasn’t his real name, but it’s close enough, and gives you some indication of the bootfuls of testosterone we’re dealing with here.
And there I stood, so peaceably gazing out through my front porch screen watching the passing show and the passing cars. I felt like an appreciative art patron perusing a gorgeously curated museum. It was then I heard the distant rumble of drums. Their percussive beats grew louder and more insistent when through the lilac bush I spied an odd two-wheeled contraption flitting down the street, getting closer and closer. But would it actually reach me?
The Doppler effect of its throaty rumble registered at many levels; finally registering in the fight or flight area of my amygdala as a black & white Syracuse Police motorcycle, which, thanks to the mellowing powers of marijuana, I initially watched with great detachment. The strange little conveyance began to slow down in front of my house. “Hmmm,” I calmly wondered, “now why would this funny motorized bicycle slow down in front of my house?”
And immediately my casual observation pivoted into sheer panic as the crotch-rocket cop turned into my driveway and parked his snorting metallic dragon right in front of my house while I was exhaling a snootful of pungent pot smoke! Holy Sh*t Batman, they’re after me! Who narced? Those damn downwind Holtzberry’s next door?
The bejesus was out of me. Suddenly I wasn’t so high anymore and my synapses began operating in survival mode efficiency. I grabbed the pot, slammed the front door and flew out of the living room, into the hallway and down through the basement door, where I cowered at the top of the stairs while Mr. CHiPs rang the doorbell repeatedly and huffed in a stentorian baritone, “Dorothy. Dorothy. Dorothy are you there?” With all that huffing I thought this big, bad police-wolf might blow the door down. I could see my reflection in Ponch’s mirrored sunglasses as I was led away to Juvey Hall screaming, “No! You can’t take me away! I’ve got a Hungry-Man Dinner in the oven. Please officer, I can’t let it go to waste. I’ll be 10 minutes. Maybe 60 minutes if I forgot to turn the oven on.”
Then just as quickly I thought (actually I didn’t think anything, it just came to me like some hidden file in a background process of a computer) why is this cop calling my mother’s name when clearly he’s here to throw me in irons?
A Welcomed Aha Moment
Aha, I get it. That cop is not after me. It’s Officer Dirk Blastfence and he’s here to visit his squeeze – my dear old mother Dorothy. He’s not looking to arrest David-the-Younger. He’s just looking to get laid. All my anxiety drained out of me, and my heart, which had flatlined, started beating again. I won’t be doing hard time after all. I’ll just wait this out and Dirk Blastfence will remount his chromed stallion and ride away.
Phew! And ride away he did, leaving me to simply change my underwear and resume my session after this little potus interruptus. In reality he probably would’ve made like the trees and asked me for a hit of whatever I was smoking, but at the time I thought it best to panic first and ask questions later.
Besides choosing your parents wisely, if I learned anything from this incident that balmy evening (both the weather and myself), it would be the wisdom of smoking pot off the back porch instead of the front porch. It’s not often a hazy and lazy summer mellow gets harshed by a motorcycle cop showing up uninvited in your driveway. Sometimes the most unexpected things happen when you least expect them (Hmmm, maybe I do sound kind of high – it’s the smoked salmon talking).
Unhappily, a few months after extinguishing my evening mellow, Mr. CHiPs went on to extinguish his own life by slamming his motorcycle full-throttle into a bridge abutment. I can only presume that tortured soul died with his boots on.
This world is just littered with one extreme experience after another – and everything in between. I know. Thanks to Mr. Chopper Copper, I went from utter serenity, to manifest panic, and back again in the span of 3 minutes. That’s a quick turnaround. Just another aspect of the gamut of experiences available to us spirits here in the material world. Experiences like trying to figure out the manly differences among:
MAN, I’ve got work to do. And I think I’ll do it on the back porch.