Sweet Mary Jane
by Marc Charbonnet
As Harold walked into my apartment for lunch, he was met with loud wafts from a newly reissued CD recording of Judy Garland at Carnegie Hall that I'd bought, which mingled with sounds of thick marijuana smoke. Harold came for lunch, a smoke lunch as opposed to a liquid lunch (100% calorie-free!). The Judy album–which we already knew backwards and forwards, every nuance, giggle, choke, cough and also a couple of missed lyrics–was one that we were looking forward to finally hearing on CD. Pass the joints! I remember back in my high school days, the "stoner" kids would play Led Zeppelin or Pink Floyd, and yell "It's Zeppelin! Fire it up!" meaning it was the kind of music one had to smoke pot to. Well, I "fired it up" to Judy Garland, and still did at that point in my life. While all the other "sophtisto" boys in New York City were imbibing in trendy Bacardi and sodas, Jim Beam and Cokes or glasses of Merlot–Harold and I loved the giggle grass. So once again there we were in my apartment, deep in reefer madness, analyzing Judy. Lost amongst a cigarette and pot smoke brume, we listened, sang, cheered, raved and sang them all afternoon and into the evening.
As we were sitting like two giant caterpillars atop mushrooms with magical hookahs–we abruptly stopped talking and shushed each other, sitting up with our ears gaping. There was an intermission in one of the songs we'd never heard! We weren't hallucinating. This was the new, uncut and complete recording of the entire concert, and it had it all. The initial release of the album in 1961–which stayed on the Billboard Top 100 for eons, and won five Grammys–had been a shortened version, edited down to fit on vinyl (which I'd already gone through two copies of). There were new parts of this extended CD release of the concert we'd yet to lay our stoned eardrums on. For instance, in "How Long Has This Been Going On?," there was a gorgeous instrumental guitar interlude that I loved, along with a couple of other changes. But the biggest scandal of the afternoon came at a point in the recording when Judy was speaking to the audience, and we heard her voice coming out of my speakers, clearly saying, “Harold, Harold darling, stand up.”
You'd think we would've burst out laughing, but Harold actually stood up, genuinely frightened, while his eyes darted around the hazy room. I joined him, shutting my mouth and looking around, startled. Then I looked at him, my eyes like pinholes, narrowing with envy that she was calling Harold from the beyond and not me. Of course, being aficionados, we both quickly realized that she was introducing one Harold Arlen to the audience, who had done most of the songs at the concert. I quickly recovered from my jealousy, and took another puff. Historically, I began smoking pot when I was seventeen, back in New Orleans. Like the rest of us living in the real world during the Reagan era, when Nancy was telling America they could solve the drug problem with three simple words, I'd decided to think for myself when it came to marijuana. And I found I could think about it much clearer over a joint or five. Had my introduction to drugs come from peer pressure? It sure had, and I'll be forever grateful. My first dip in the danger zone came by way of my dear friend Danny. Danny and I became close comrades while I was busting the hinges off my closet door. We met while both performing in the chorus of Applause, a New Orleans production of All About Eve (and applause to Bette Davis in the film–and Lauren Bacall in the Broadway production), and we became forever friends. One night, Danny, being the brazen adventure seeker he was (and I was quickly becoming) he dragged me to a part of the city I'd never been to before, the Ninth Ward, to visit a person I'd never met, named Sammy. It was quite late, and Sammy lived in a charming little house down the long end of a slatternly, unlit street. When we walked through Sammy's front door I spied on a table a human skull, with a candle burning on top. Pausing, I immediately knew, from my Catholic roots and hearing of Voodoo, that this was not a safe place to be.
So bring on the drugs! It was like something out of one of those old black and white anti-drug scare films they showed to kids back in the 1950's (except in place of a human skull, there would have been a Communist party brochure). Despite the scenario where I first tasted of the forbidden weed being a horrendous cliché, I treacherously puckered my virgin lips and attempted to inhale off of a large joint that Sammy had magically unfurled from his pocket after we'd arrived. Once I stopped violently hacking, coughing and thinking my throat was on fire, I decided that repeating the process would bring greater ease. This time slower, deeper. I was right. Soon, I was breaking the law like a true pro, skull or no skull.
After a while, I looked around the room. Everything sounded strange, like someone had stuffed cotton in my ears–no, stuffed into my brain–yet I could somehow hear and see things with crisp clarity. Sights and sounds came at me sharply, and my perception seemed intensified. Unfortunately, it kept intensifying, and everything began to accelerate. My senses immediately went flying out of my control and I began to freak out. I looked over at Danny, who was holding out the joint and saying to me in slow motion, "You should have some m-o-o-o-o-r-r-e." Sammy was laughing and making faces at me. He'd heard it was my first time, and wanted to get all the mileage he could out of his investment. The payoff for sharing drugs with a newbie is that they often become the entertainment.
As I noticed more details around the room (so many!), I was able to block Sammy's antics out. Every mundane square inch in the room held infinite possibilities, which there finally seemed to be enough time to contemplate. The light from the skull candle and the television set flickered around the walls like colorful water. I looked at the television and became frightened because the picture was zigzagging back and forth. Soon I learned the set was screwed up, but seeing that sent me off onto another bad track, and paranoia set in. I looked over at Danny and said "We need to g-o-o-o-o…" I just knew that at any moment, the police would bust down the door and raid this illicit Voodoo hash house, throwing us all in a paddy wagon–bringing further shame to my already shamed family. Oh god! My parents! Maybe they'd been the ones who call the police? Were they waiting right outside the door? At the time this made perfect, terrifying sense. Sammy was still laughing maniacally in my face to mess with me. I grabbed Danny shoulder and, against his protests, shoved him out the door telling him we had to leave immediately. We left the house and took the very long way home, even wandering around some rather bad parts of town. But it was there, on that walk in the waning hours amongst the balmy air, that I began to truly appreciate the effects of marijuana. I felt wonderful.
So, that was the blast-off point. With my foot in the door, I now came barreling into the world of regular marijuana use. On subsequent outings, I began sparking up the spliff more and more, and letting the booze pour right along with it. Every time I did, it just got better and better. I smoked and smoked and danced and drank. Suddenly everything in life was a new surprise. Reality, which had sometimes been something hard to face, suddenly became a friend. I was a young, full-blown pot head, and loved it. That's how it starts.
Pot became such a way of life for me back then, that my day ran in "shifts" of getting and maintaining my high. I had a regimented schedule to keep. People would visit me at 9:00 PM, which was the first shift. My friends Debbie, Jonette and Harold would come over, we'd get loaded amongst loads of laughs and carrying on, and then they would leave. Then a little later, I'd meet up with my friends Brian, Kent and Susan in the driveway, for the second shift. It was amazing, considering all my friends had jobs, or were getting degrees, and performed really well despite the drugs they were doing and the substances they were putting into themselves. I remember being very unclear at the time about what my professional future held. If you'd told me back then that I'd one day be a renowned interior designer with my own business in New York, I'd have said that you were absolutely hilarious, and passed you a joint.
Even at that age, my need to be constantly under the influence lead to some slightly drastic behavior with a willing team of enablers. Pot smoke was like oxygen to us. If I wasn't inhaling a joint, I wasn't really breathing. My friend Janet and I would often go over to our weird old friend David Wallace's apartment. What we did was awful, but we were broke, and not being stoned wasn't an option. We'd hang out for a while with Dave, and then somehow convince him to run out to do errands, make a food run (usually to pick up munchies–cookies, chips or Chinese–one of the best plateaus of marijuana nirvana is the point where you crave junk food), anything to get him out of the apartment. Once he split, we would raid his stash, run over into the kitchen and run it trough a flour sifter, shaking it and shaking it, to squeeze out enough pot for us to make a big joint for the way home. Then we'd carefully put his stash back, thinking we were being sly. He was so dear, and obviously generous. I think he knew what we were doing, and never said a word to us.
Cerebral daytime activities naturally follow all-day pot use. My friend and roommate in The Big Easy, Janet, and I loved getting stoned while visiting my family’s above ground, New Orleans 19th century tomb. We were actually continuing what was an ancient city tradition. It wasn’t unusual in the 19th and early 20th century to see people, family and friends of the departed, visiting these cities of the death. Janet and I would water the succulent wax rose in the marble urns and smoke pot during afternoons at Saint Louis #3 Cemetery on Esplanade Avenue. It was strange because Harold and Janet each lived on the opposite service gates to the cemetery. Harold on the east and Janet on the west, on dead end streets, how apropos.
Culinary excess also became a ritual in those days as well. Sometimes we'd go to a 24-hour diner in the middle of the night and order the cheapest, most mass-heavy breakfast special on the menu. I'd often order eggs over easy just so I could ask the annoyed waitress "Do you have 'this is your brain on drugs' on today's menu?" Remember that 80's anti-drug television ad with the egg frying in the pan? Then I'd order it, refusing to call them "eggs," and when she'd bring my plate out I'd look up at her and say "I'm sorry, could you send this back? I've changed my mind. I'd like 'my brain on drugs' scrambled." while everyone burst out laughing. Once we got kicked out, but it didn't matter. They were good times, and we might as well have been having breakfast on Mars.
Honestly, I've never liked the process of becoming stoned, but I like the state of being stoned. There's a world of difference. I find the experience of getting there to be quite frightening (it might stem back to that night of teen trauma at Sammy's Voodoo dungeon). But you can't have one without the other. The only way I've come up with beating it is to become stoned once, and remain completely buzzed for the rest of my life. Impractical, yes, but the fantasy has crossed my mind. No, you have to travel from your straight side over to the other, again and again. And I do. Once you reach that plateau though, it's just perfect. I love marijuana because it doesn't take you to another world, but makes the world you're functioning in seem like a whole other one. While high, I find I can be so very happy in life. I can become so involved with what I write, or say, or view. Everything becomes deeper, my interaction with everything, and everyone, around me becomes richer and often more efficient. For me, my mistress Sweet Mary Jane has become an essential spice.
None of the grass I've ever inhaled can compare to the marijuana we had in Louisiana back in those days. They had things that were called "four finger lids." They came in cellophane sandwich bags, better known as baggies, and they were called four finger because they were as high as four fingers. They cost $10. Columbian was $25 and Hawaiian was $50. Of course, back then $50 then was what $200 would be today. Today you spend $200 on something that looks like a 2"x2" miniature baggie, and people make that last. I would have gone through that with one joint. Speaking of which, I was the most perfect joint roller. I could roll a doobie with one hand and it would burn evenly as a Benson and Hedges cigarette. I remember once, my father had an elderly friend who smoked hand-rolled cigarettes. He was in the beginning stages of an old man shake and was spilling his tobacco. I was in the middle of telling what I thought was an amusing story and, with one hand, reached into his tobacco, rolled out the tobacco into the paper, rolled it with two fingers, licked it and handed it back. I realized everyone stopped listening to my story and looked at my skill. I never said anything, but my actions certainly did.
Thank goodness I'd never really warmed to alcohol, and had bad experiences the few times I tried cocaine–or it all would have been a terrible disaster. Honestly, I'd be dead. Booze and hard drugs were just not for me. But when it came to pot, I was truly addicted. I most definitely have an addictive personality trait when it comes to that. People sometimes argue about whether marijuana is addictive or not. I can tell you that it is. It's psychological, and it is very, very difficult to quit.
I had friends who could have a cigarette twice a year or a pot puff at a party four times a year. Not me. I had to be stoned 24 hours a day. I was really quite clever in how I achieved this. First, it involved staying up late, which I've never gotten over (I don't 'stay up late' now though, I pass out like Tallulah Bankhead–other than the dentist, the two things that I deplore most in life are going to bed and getting up in the morning). While up, I would smoke so much weed that when I did pass out, I'd regain consciousness in the morning and still have my buzz. Then, if I carefully took a few hits of a fresh joint, I'd be elevated back to where I wanted to be for the rest of the day. It was really a very sad affair.
Scoring pot in New Orleans may have been one thing, but getting it once I moved to New York City proved to be an entirely different affair. If you felt like getting some fresh air, there was always Washington Square Park. You couldn't walk two feet down there without guys conspicuously walking by you saying, "Pot…tststs… weed…tststs." The problem with going down to Washington Square though, was that you never knew what you were getting. At best it was dirt weed, that horrible weed at the end of summer which has no potency and tastes like you're eating mud. Or you could go to 10th Street–before the area became oh so chic–and all along the street on both sides, from Third Avenue to Avenue A, were street vendors were selling their weed. You could definitely get good weed there. Then there were the dealers that I started to get to know personally, and rely on. First there was Chicken, who would come to my apartment. He would pick me up in his car and drive me around the corner while we made our marijuana deal. He was Haitian and had two Haitians in the car. I would always get in and, displaying great pleasantry, would turn around and look at them in the back seat and say, "Hello, hello." I was told by Chicken not to look. One night in his car, I got in and realized I was sitting on something. It was a pistol. I was nervous as shit, but the weed Chicken was getting for me was too good to give up.
Then there was the Chief, who would come and pick me up when I lived on York Avenue and 78th Street. We would drive around the block that had D'Agostino and the Food Emporium on it (a real convenience for me when the food-gorging stage of getting stoned hit), and he would then bring me back and drop me off, and I'd have my lovely little package of pot. Getting drugs this way was very clandestine, but really seedy. I began to want to wear sunglasses because I didn't want to be recognized, which probably would have been even worse because it was usually after dark.
Then there was my favorite dealer, Steve. Steve was a great find. He lived on 1st Street between First and Second Avenues, in a tenement. He was a very sensitive and artistic soul, and an actor. I would climb the five flights of the stairs to his place, go in, get the weed, and leave. The more I went, the more casual it became. We began having conversations and became friendly, and would chat. Once he actually came over and read and reviewed a script I had written. My friend David, another pot head, became very good friends with him. One day he told me that he had been at Steve's and had seen all of these 3D pornographic photographs that he had taken of himself. The next time I went over to Steve's, I shamelessly begged for one, and received it. I spent a fortune on a frame that held the image behind Plexiglas, and a plastic sleeve next to that holding a pair of 3D glasses. It was a scream hanging there in my apartment, and quite shocking, which of course made it very fun for me and my guests (especially when we were stoned). I eventually fell out of friendship with Steve, which was really too bad because I needed my pot from him. I began to send my assistants downtown in a cab to pick up the pot, much to their horror.
Still, even if I'd lost my Steve connection, it wouldn't have really mattered. The supply of marijuana smoke that my brain demanded existed in abundance in New York City back in "those days." Sigh, how I miss them. There were the Hell's Angels next door to the Dorothy Day house on 3rd Street, always a thrill to visit. And if you couldn't get it from them, there was the Voodoo shop right across the street. And if you couldn't get it from the Voodoo shop you could go to Houston and Allen Streets, where a beautiful young black man called Face would sell the weed. These were all fronts for different shops. The Hell's Angels didn't think twice about it, they just rode up on their cycles and provided their weed. The Voodoo shop sold candles (but not skulls!) and spells, but behind the curtains was the treasure one looked for. Face ran a reggae music shop, but you could always find what you were after there. During all those years, I never got caught. Penalties back then for marijuana possession could be severe, even prison time, depending on where you were caught, and what you had. But I had been lucky.
Then I had a very close wake-up call at an airport in California. I was leaving the city through Los Angeles National, and was at the security gate checkpoint. This was obviously before 9/11, but back in the hijack-craze days when everyone was looking for guns. I had a package of prime Hawaiian marijuana, really fantastic stuff, stashed in a paper bag in the top pocket of my shirt (note to self–don't get stoned before flying). I wasn't really worried, obviously. But then as I went through the metal detector, it went off. So this meant they kept making me walk through it several times, and the detector kept beeping and beeping. Soon they realized it was the buckles on my Birkenstocks. What a mistake. I should have worn regular shoes with tie-strings, or a nice solid leather sole–but when in Rome. While they were pointing that noisy wand at my feet, one of the guards felt the bag in my pocked and asked what was in it. I looked at her and said, "Oh, you don't want to look in that bag.”
She said nothing as she slowly pulled it out of my pocket, opened it, and looked inside. Looking back at me, she then held it up like a stinky diaper, holding the bag up by one corner with her index finger and thumb. I reached over and clasped the other end with my ring finger and my middle finger. We stood there like that for a while, eyes locked. She broke the silence, "I have to report this."
"You really don't" I said to her, hoping to hypnotize her with my calm voice.
"I really do." she repeated, raising her brow.
"You really don't." I repeated, "It's not crack. It's not cocaine. It's pot." I gently slipped it from her fingers, adding, "Please..." "Get the fuck out of here." she said, grinning at me in that maternal way women can smile under a facial expression that isn't actually smiling.
I said nothing and just put the bag back in my shirt, dashing in a panic as fast as I could to the men's room. I wasn't taking any more chances. Hawaiian weed or no Hawaiian weed, I knew I wouldn't be as damn lucky at another security checkpoint. I ran into a stall and began flushing the exquisite pot down one of the filthy toilets. I flushed repeatedly and began shoving my hand all the way down into the toilet. I knew, gross, but it must be done.
The first time I even attempted to hit the brakes on my pot use, I was still rather young and living in New York. I'd decided it was a teenage thing that had gone on for too long, and I needed to be more professional. But of course, I then backslid a little bit later, and then quit yet again after that. But then later the spark was lit once again, again. For me, pot may have never been a gateway drug, but it has certainly been a revolving door.
After those initial, rather amateurish, attempts at quitting cold turkey, I decided to make a very serious, committed attempt to stop. I decided I need to go into rehab.
I pictured myself being dragged off kicking and screaming by nurses wearing big hats. Or maybe nuns! I wanted to lay in giant white hospital rooms, in tragically glamorous scenarios where doctors strapped me down to my bed as I screamed "Give me a joint!" I wanted to wander around dazed in hospital hallways, dressed in a loose hospital gown and giant sunglasses. I wanted to sit in on circle group meetings with jittery people who thought they had bugs crawling under their skin and yelled a lot, like in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. I knew it wasn't going to be pretty, but I was ready to face it.
So, I did the only logical thing. I got out the phone book and looked up The Betty Ford Clinic (this was my second choice actually, after the police). I just cold-called the receptionist there. A woman answered the phone, saying "Hello, The Betty Ford Clinic." I pictured her having hair like our former first lady, circa-1976, like all the employees there would have to have to wear wigs like that as a uniform. I breathlessly confessed almost every detail of my history with pot to this receptionist, ranting my sob story like it was the suicide hotline. This poor woman (she probably got slobs like me on the phone all the time), she finally interrupted me and asked if there was any other substance besides marijuana in my addiction history. I told her no, that was it. She finally informed me, almost condescendingly, that marijuana "didn't qualify" as an addiction to the Betty Ford Clinic.
"Oh, really?" I asked.
"Yes." she chimed.
"Well I voted for Carter anyway." I said before hanging up the phone, lying.
So then I called Alcoholics Anonymous, thinking they could help me. "Get lost," they said in not so many words. At my lowest point I went to a church meeting, which I've determined is the last refuge of a scoundrel. It depressed me so much that I had to risk smoking on the street just so I could get stoned on the way home.
Then it struck me to look up Narcotics Anonymous, They were in the phone book too. They directed me to a local meeting in my area, and I attend. While there, I felt like such an under achiever. I sat and listened to people talk about how they had traded their own children into white slavery for crack, or secretly sold all of their mother's possessions for more cocaine, or attempted to murder a stranger for just one more fix of heroin. When it came to me, I felt ridiculous saying, “I'm a decorator, and I can't get my projects completed on time because I'm smoking too much pot." They couldn't relate to me, and the feeling was mutual. It was like rock bottom was an unreachable goal for me. I left feeling even more shame because I hadn't done something like appear in a Bangkok snuff film with a donkey. I was so lost and alone…Little Bo Peep stoned in the streets.
But the more I walked home and thought about it, the luckier I felt. If anything, that meeting made me realize what a "happy" and "good" drug marijuana is. All those other people's drug addictions were like spiraling, hellish horror shows, for real. Me? I simply wasn't able to get my decorator projects done on time. Hard drugs can lead to Hell. But pot, at its worst, leads to a kind of unfortunate, apathetic purgatory that infringes on your accomplishments. That's as bad as it gets. In comparison, the source of my problem suddenly seemed like an asset in life. Which is not how you should feel when leaving a meeting of that kind. Still determined, I began discretely asking amongst friends where I could get help kicking my pot habit. Who to ask is in this situation is a tough call. You don't want to ask your non-pot smoking friends, because to many of them you might not be out as a dope fiend. But on the other hand, you don't dare ask your pot-smoking buddies, because you'll immediately alienate them and they'll split from your life at light speed–mainly because you now represent their own inner suspicions about their relationship to pot. So where to go? Imprisoned by newfound doubt, distrust and helplessness, you have no choice but to light up another joint and think about it. Potheads are the true ciphers of the drug rehab world.
Regardless, I pressed on and found there existed a grass roots organization in the city that catered to people like me. They ran a subgroup called Marijuana Addicts, and weren't affiliated with any of the big addiction organizations (which seemed like corporations in comparison) or a church. Plus their meetings were a private affair. My good friend Harold volunteered to attend the meeting with me, but only as support.
On the evening of the meeting, Harold and I followed the directions and found ourselves venturing to a part of the city we'd never been to before. We reached the address, an apartment house, and went in. It was a relief to get inside, as I was uneasy about the street we were on. There was no one around the foyer, but we followed scribbly, hand-written signs directing us to the basement. We saw a dark stairwell leading downwards, and heard some cackling voices behind the closed door at the bottom.
"You go first." I said to Harold, hoping he'd just act before he had a chance to think.
"No." he said flatly.
We both descended together, holding hands. We opened the door and found a well-lit, rather large community room, in place of the serial killer's crawlspace we were dreading. There was a circle of chairs, with eight or nine people sitting in them who were professionally dressed, all looking rather conservative and straight. Harold and I joined the circle and sat and chatted. No one was even dressed casual, and everyone's manner was extremely polite. The crowd wasn't at all what I'd expected, I felt like I was in an office. Soon, someone handed me a set of index cards, and I and Harold both looked down at them. As I flipped through them, we saw each one had a different insult; "seductress, ruiner, liar, enabler, cheater, friendless." Was this a cruel joke? Soon we saw that everyone in the group were getting their own set. These words were all supposed to let us know that marijuana was all these things, or caused these deficiencies in our lives.
As Harold and I tried to make small talk with our new friends and talk about the cards, someone made an announcement that the meeting was to begin. We all got quiet. My journey as a non-pot smoker was about to start. One foot forward… Just then, Harold and I could hear a discernible hum way in the distance, coming closer. Oddly, only the two of us turned around to look and see what it was, everyone else just kept staring at the floor. The sound became louder and more mechanical. Then, behind a large stack of folding chairs, we saw the shadow of something moving, gliding slowly. I nearly gasped in shock (and Harold almost squealed with delight), when from out from behind the stack of chairs emerged a dwarf, strapped to an electric wheelchair! Trust me, this was no little person in the traditional term, or even a midget. This was a dwarf.
He began speaking loudly to all of us from way across the room. Sermonizing about the wicked vice of marijuana, and how quitting had saved his life and made him the person he was today. The creepy sound of his chair; "b-z-z-z-n-n," ran beneath his voice as he approached the circle. His voice was high-pitched, but still somehow loud and resonating. He had on the tiniest biker boots I had ever seen, almost like doll boots, and his feet didn't touch the ground. Occasionally he had spasms in his slightly twisted neck or and arms, which were strapped to the controls on his chair. God it was weird. He was like R2-D2 turned inside out. And to think I was expecting Nurse Ratchet. "Talk about an entrance!" Harold whispered to me, "How did he get down those stairs?"
"My God!" I whispered back, "If I were him, I think I would still be smoking pot.”
After we regained our inner composure, the meeting officially started, with the mechanical dwarf acting as ringleader (we learned his name was Doug). People began having discussions about what was going on in their lives, and what they all felt about why they were doing what they did, discussing feelings of inadequacy and calling pot out for being the mistress that we all needed. Hearing all of this was really just what I needed. I felt like I'd arrived.
Doug spoke about how passionate he was about warning others about what pot had done to him, and how it had ruled his life and ruined his relationships. I, of course, wondered if had ended up that way physically because pot, but said nothing. Doug then asked us to describe vividly what lead to our desire to quit smoking pot. I realized that it was the first time I'd actually thought specifically about that. The first man said that his bank account had dwindled. He smoked so much pot that it really was costing too much and going into more than just his spending money for the month, it was infringing now into his actual expenses for living in the city. The second one said that he'd basically taken marijuana as his lover, and his girlfriend had left him. The third one said it interfered with his work. He was an engineer involved with several building problems around town, working for the city. He was messing up on dimensions and scale, and was in a lot of trouble and desperately needed to quit. The fourth was an attorney who did criminal defense and he thought the last thing he needed was to be busted himself. I realized how lucky I was to be in the art business, being an interior designer. I was granted the usual slack that people in creative profession are automatically allowed in society. I could slide on some of the important things that these other people who were accountants, engineers, bankers and attorneys all had problems with. They were married and their wives were fed up with them being zonked on weed all day. Or they had children who were being neglected because they were so involved with their pot addiction. Or the mortgage on their suburban home was dangerously behind, or their kid's college tuition payments were deep in the red. I suddenly felt a little entitled.
When it was my turn to speak, I just said that I was lonely and tired of what pot did to me. I told them that it really was not enriching my life, that I was addicted, and I wished that I could be more social. Everyone nodded knowingly. It felt good. Then it was Harold’s time to speak. I looked over at him, not really knowing what he was going to say. He brazenly blurted, “I smoke eight to ten joints a day.” The room gasped. “And I have no intention of quitting.” he added, to louder gasps. Doug gurgled and turned red in his wheelchair. “And I quit smoking cigarettes eight years ago and I'm back to smoking two packs of KOOL a day.” he concluded with. Even I gasped. He let them have it smiling, with a razor tongue. Poor little Doug looked at him with a facial expression that seemed to plead; "Why?" And Harold, reading Doug's mind, said, "I'm only here because he wouldn't come without me!" pointing at me while tapping my shoulder with his index finger. Thanks Harold.
It seems that the meeting ended sooner than it would have because of Harold's performance. But as he and I left, walking down the street, I said to him, “You don't have the responsibilities that these people do, and I don't have half of the responsibilities that they have. I don't have family or friends or jobs, those kinds of demands." This made Harold get very angry with me, defensive even. He disappeared after that and I didn't see him for another two or three months. Even after seeing him again, we continued to drift apart more and more. It wasn't for a while that I realized it was for the simple reason that I didn't smoke dope any longer. Sad, but true. And actually, despite my healthy goals, I realized that my socializing cut down greatly after quitting. Marijuana is a very social drug in itself. When smoking, if you don't go out, you still have company–even if you're alone. And if you do go out, it's only to find Sweet Mary Jane, the most seductive mistress of them all.
I stayed clean and sober for a long time after that meeting, despite alienating some of my friends. That was all until one summer, when a circus arrived in my life. The "circus" was actually the Pines in Fire Island. Harry and I, and some other friends, were the midway performers. Poor Harry (not to be confused with my aforementioned friend Harold, who is from New Orleans–Harry is from Westchester), he was a former beauty, now slightly into the beginning of his mid-30s, gaining weight and losing hair. He was still handsome, but not having every single man on the street with any ambiguous sexual nature turning to check him out. Me? I was still just me. But Harry and his waning youthfulness was our host, regardless. He'd rented a divine home in the Pines, which had been lived in by both Betty Grable and Vivian Vance (who played Lucy's best friend and foe on I Love Lucy). I remember being disappointed when I didn't see one of those "Ethel Mertz slept here" plaques on the front of the home.
When Harry walked in and saw my sleep apnea machine and its long air tubes in the living room, he said, “I feel like I'm in the recovery room of Long Island General Hospital.” I laughed about that.
A beautiful home on Fire Island filled with aging gay men, that once had been slept in by Betty and Vivian, and had a sleep apnea machine in the living room? If there was going to be any weekend when I'd fall back to my old ways, this was looking like it was going to be it This place was made for pot!
But if I did, I was going to have to be a bit discrete, as we had visitors coming. My elder sister came with her three daughters, as well as my friend Yvette and her daughter, plus my assistant and her beautiful daughter. Moses, a handyman who worked for me since I was 20, also came. He was an elderly black gentleman who was of the old school. We had a wonderful time. Everyone tried the sleep apnea machine for laughs, and rubbed the furniture, hoping to touch some remnants of Mrs. Grable's molecules. We went strolling down the beach beside Rubens-sized Lesbians frolicking in the water beside us, their loose breasts sometimes floating above the surface before they emerged, like a shark's fin. Moses of course loved this, standing and staring with his mouth hanging open, as the girls stood behind him giggling. On one of these colorful evenings, Yvette pulled out a joint and offered it around (so much for discretion). I remember looking at it sideways while she held it in her hand towards me, asking if I wanted a hit. I said nothing. There it was again, without warning, and in a perfect setting. It would be instant gratification, and instant all-over-again addiction, probably. I reached my hand out, halted the wagon-driver, and stepped off.
As I inhaled, I had to get over that whole not-liking-getting-stoned hump, so I locked onto Yvette's joint like a vacuum cleaner. When someone looked at me funny for bogarting the joint, I squeaked out through held breath, "This is for Harold." So I was back off the wagon, and boy did it feel good to stretch my legs. Once again, music was brilliant, books were fabulous and conversations were stimulating. Sigh. Is it all just my imagination, or is it really that much better? I'll never really know, considering the fact that I'm stoned when it all occurs. Ah, but they were lovely times, lovely feelings, lovely people, lovely parties…good parties. Good times.
But all good things must come to an end. I don't know who said that. And I don't know if I agree that it is positive, but I know that it's true. Sweet Mary Jane is out of my life once again. Sweet marijuana is no longer a guest in my home. And I can honestly say I miss it. I think more than missing it, I miss the grand times I had when I did have it. It was the prelude to so many wonderful days and evenings and the ending for so many of those same nights.