I was always hopeless as a smoker. From infancy, I was opposed to tobacco use. Cigarette ads were banned from TV and radio in 1970, and even as a toddler I knew about lung cancer. One of my earliest memories is of asking my cigarette-puffing father to stop smoking. My mother thought smoking was unladylike, and to this day I harbor a residue of prejudice– savoring the sexiness of the manly smoker whilst deploring the unglamorousness of an ash-laden stub hanging from a female lip.
If conviction and sexism hadn’t turned me against smoking, ineptitude would have done the trick. I was a late bloomer, so afraid of fire that I couldn’t bring myself to strike a match until I was in my 20s (at which point I was forced to learn because my job as a waitress required me to light candles).
Then my older brother came home, on vacation from his private school, where he had been introduced to a cornucopia of pharmaceutical delights. He instructed me to inhale from a hand-rolled stick of herbal-smelling stuff, put The Who’s Quadrophenia on the turntable, and placed a set of huge, cushiony headphones over my ears. I’m not sure whether it was the pot, the headphones (a new experience for me), or my initial exposure to the Quadruple Ecstasy of the Lovely Lads from Acton, but my ears were opened and my mind was blown.
Another time, we got stoned and my brother climbed behind the wheel of our mom’s Ford Galaxy 500 to drive us to a midnight movie at the local cinema. You may have guessed it: The Kids Are Alright. As he turned left at a major intersection, the rear of the car was forcefully struck by someone who (no doubt) had the right of way. Brother Mine just kept driving, laughing maniacally all the way.
I don’t remember much about the film itself. What I do recall quite vividly is the introductory ad for the movie house, which consisted of bright colored lights, rhythmically moving and flashing around buckets of popcorn and boxes of Junior Mints, Dots, and Milk Duds. Mesmerizing. The next day, the huge dent in the car was explained to our mother as the result of a drunken clown careening through the parking lot whilst we were innocently enjoying the movie.
Having been introduced to the joys of weed and its delightful capacity to amplify sensory experiences (such as the consumption of Doritos and Chef Boyardee pizza while listening to Tommy), I was rudely deprived of this new pleasure by my brother’s departure for the Neverland of California. I had no idea where I might obtain some replacement weed, no idea how to roll a joint, and worst of all, no one to light it for me.
After a time, a birthday parcel arrived for me from California, containing a vintage beaded handbag. Touched by my brother’s unusual attention to the calendar and perplexed by his sudden interest in women’s fashion, I opened the bag to find an old fashioned powder compact secreted in a zipped pocket. Under the lid of the compact was a small supply of a sweet-smelling dried herb. There was no note.
I took this handbag to a party, where it drew a great deal of interest. A joint containing a liberal amount of the mystery weed was duly rolled, lit and passed around. Opinions as to the quality varied, with some declaring that it was “good stuff” and others insisting that it was nothing to write home about. For my part, I found myself paralyzed, unable to move from the armchair where I was sitting, and for a time even unable to speak, though my heart was pounding. Finally I mentioned that I did not feel at all well. My fellow partiers were concerned. The word “paraquat” was bandied about, and I was driven home by my disgruntled date, who never called me again. Afraid that my mother would find it, I flushed the rest of the herb down the toilet.
When I mentioned the incident to my brother, he scornfully informed me that I and my moronic friends were bumpkins and philistines, incapable of appreciating the finer things in life, and that anyone who would discard such a gift did not deserve it in the first place. Thus at the tender age of fifteen, my career as a smoker of weed came to a humiliating and ignominious end.
Many years later, when I met the Long Suffering Husband, I learned that in his early days he had been a bit of a pothead, inhaling much of the national supply of Wisconsin Green (one had to smoke it liberally, I gathered, in order to achieve the desired effect). But by then we both had something to lose, and I was acutely aware of the fact that we live in a country where a man who stockpiles automatic weapons is thought to be engaging in a harmless pastime, while the gentle individual who only wants to get stoned (and perhaps, if she could get up the courage, open a candle shop) is branded a menace to society and speedily incarcerated.
Wisely, we turned to drink.
Fast forward to the present day. A mysterious parcel arrives with a Washington state postmark. Perhaps not by coincidence, Washington state has legalized marijuana, and the Long Suffering Husband has recently visited that land of Abundant Greenery. Within the parcel is a charming wooden case embossed with a frog. The case contains an herbal substance and a tiny pipe.
We retire to the hallway bath (which has a ventilation fan), and I inhale the smoke from a minuscule amount of weed. The LSH assures me that the stuff is potent, and one toke is sufficient. The smoke expands in my trachea and lungs with an unpleasant burning sensation. I hold it in as long as I can, then sputter and cough. Armed with shots of Rémy Martin and squares of a Ritter bar (yogurt, my favorite), we settle in front of the television to watch Cosmos.
“I don’t feel anything,” I announce, as the colorful opening sequence plays over the screen. Then Neil Tyson appears, and the giggling begins.