Today I want to talk about pot.
No, not the kind you heat up a can of Chef Boy-ar-dee ravioli in if it’s 1950 and there’s no such thing as a microwave oven yet. I’m talking about doobs, bud, smoke, Mary Jane, reefer, weed, grass, Acapulco Gold, Maui Wowie, wacky tobaccy… I’m talking about the great grandmamma of all gateway drugs, marijuana.
It seems to me that there is a significant difference between what smoking pot meant back when I was a teen and young adult and what it means now. First of all, that was a long time ago in that magical and mystical era we remember
(vaguely, in some cases) as the 1980’s. I’ve written before about my movie-going habits in the summer of 1980. That was the year that gave us The Shining and The Empire Strikes Back and even the original Friday the 13th, I was twelve years old that year and, while I was still several years away from my first bong hit, it was the movies that wrapped (warped?) my young mind around the concept of the recreational substance known by those various monikers I mentioned above.
During one of our regular trips to the drive-in (the Glendale 7, it was called, a seven screen drive-in theater multiplex in the west Phoenix suburb of Glendale, Arizona… it may still be there if you go looking for it, but be careful not to get shot, stabbed, or raped… it’s not the best part of town) we were treated to a hilarious double-feature of the Zucker Brothers’ infamous 1980 comedy Airplane! (“Surely you can’t be serious!” “I’m dead serious… and don’t call me Shirley.”) and the magnum opus first film starring Richard “Cheech” Marin and Tommy Chong, Up in Smoke.
Now, by most modern standards, neither Airplane! nor Up in Smoke are considered to be high art when it comes to cinema and Airplane! is the probably the more fondly remembered film of the two and likely considered to be the funnier comedy as well. “What’s our vector, Victor?” trumps “He said his name is Raaallllphhh…” every time, but I was twelve.
At twelve years old the antics of the perpetually stoned Canadian Tommy Chong (playing the character commonly referred to as “Man”) and his Mexican counterpart Cheech (usually known as Pedro when they were on screen) are just plain funny. What was funnier perhaps than watching these stoned morons on the screen was watching my mother’s reaction to them. Mom was a young adult when marijuana first made its way into American pop culture. She graduated high school in 1964, the year the Beatles appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show, and gave birth to me in 1968, the year Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot and the Chicago riots occurred. Pot was everywhere back then, and mom was twenty one years old. Seems silly to think she’d never tried a bit. But twenty one might as well be ninety one to a twelve year old, and at that age I had no reason to think that Mom would have ever even considered hitting a joint. She clearly wanted to keep me thinking that way and was clearly doing her damndest not to laugh at all during all of Up in Smoke. She shook quite a bit, though, and probably even snorted a few times as she fought to keep her guffaws at bay. I’ve always had the sneaking suspicion that she may have even wet herself just a little as she struggled to maintain her composure. Perhaps I should ask her one day.
In any case, prior to Up in Smoke, I’d had only the faintest idea of what marijuana even was. It was talked about in school, of course (even though this was still a few years away from Nancy Reagan’s “Just say no” campaign,” where we were warned that if you take that hit from a joint on Monday, you’ll be hooked on smack by Friday and in the morgue by Sunday), but basically I’d been fairly well sheltered from it. Regardless whether mom partook during the hippie years of the 60’s, she certainly never toked anywhere that I could see during my childhood and to this day I only ever saw her do it once. I guess that’s one more time than most people can claim having seen their mothers hit a bong, byt I’m really not sure whether that’s something to brag about.
Today pot is different (he says, finally seguing back to the point) in a number of ways. The dope itself is different, much stronger than anything that was around when I was a teen (back when dinosaurs roamed the earth), but the attitudes surrounding it are different too. Sure counterculture magazines like High Times were around back then, as were legalization/decriminalization groups like NORML (the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws), but they were safely hidden on the fringes of society. Today I follow posts from groups like “Legalize it” and “Make it Legal” on Facebook… and your kids probably do too.
A couple of years ago I got a text message from my oldest son, Aaron, when he asked me a question that took me a bit by surprise. “How’s the weed there in Vegas?” he wrote, and I was stunned. I wasn’t shocked that Aaron was smoking pot. He was 21 or so at the time and his mother, my first wife (we’ve been apart since 1989, splitting not long after Aaron was born), is, was, and probably always will be a pretty major pothead. In fact she’s pretty much a “insert drug name here” -head and it’s never been much of a secret. I’d never smoked pot in front of Aaron to my knowledge, and in fact had barely touched the stuff at all since about 1993 or so. What surprised me was not that Aaron was interested in pot, but that he’d assumed I was.
Alas… everyone’s a smoker to a smoker, I suppose.
I mention that I hadn’t really touched the stuff in quite some time. That’s true, to an extent. I was a pretty heavy pot smoker in my late teens and early to mid twenties, like so many of us. I kind of gave it up around the time I married my second wife. Pam didn’t much care for pot and I found that I didn’t much care for smoking it alone. In some circles they call that “growing up,” I suppose, but I still like to think that I never really did that and prefer to consider my years away from reefer to have been the result of conscious choice.
I have partaken a bit here and there over the last few years, whether as an attempt to recapture some of the carefree feelings of my youth or just to seem “cooler” than I actually am, I don’t know. The few times I have puffed, puffed, and passed over the past few years have been with people many years my junior; either my own boys or Tara’s daughter (she just turned 21… happy birthday, Kayla!) and her friends. I may be a dirty old man for saying so, but there are worse ways to spend an evening for a 44 year-old man than getting high with a couple of girls less than half my age.
It’s almost like reenacting a Cheech & Chong movie.
As an aside, but while we’re on the subject of movies about potheads, I recently learned of a travesty that is about to befall the American cinema. Reportedly there is yet another sequel to the late 1980’s franchise Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure in the works. Now it appears on IMDB as only “Untitled Bill & Ted Project” at this time and is rumored to have the infamous (and non-existant) director Alan Smithee at the helm, so there is hope that this will never come to fruition, but the Hollywood rumor mill suggests that both Keanu Reeves (Ted) and Alex Winter (Bill… and that one vampire guy in The Lost Boys) have agreed to reprise their original roles. Think about that for a moment and then consider that Keanu Reeves is ALMOST FIFTY FUCKING YEARS OLD!!! If this does get made, I am gonna need a really big joint.