A few days ago I was offered a taste of some righteous Northern Lights bud; no joke, folks, I’m talking some serious Cheech & Chong shit, so I figured why the hell not? I sparked the joint with the well-practiced ease of the experienced stoner and waited for the effects to kick in as the illicit vapors filled my lungs. Soon enough the familiar frontal lobe wobble began and I gave in to other-than-nicotinal bliss. The odd thing about it was that while I was enjoying some primo smoke, I was in no way as wowed by the experience as I would have been during my heyday as a full-time, pot-smoking reprobate, an era that began twenty years ago and yet somehow seems like only yesterday.
During my formative years I self-righteously railed against “druggies,” firmly convinced that anyone who partook of even the most innocuous path to an altered state of consciousness was destined to die alone, wretched and scorned, most likely infested with all manner of vermin, residing in a discarded refrigerator box while wallowing in a pool of day-old piss. Such views were seeded by my know-nothing-of-the-outside-world parents —both products of a Depression-era deep Southern upbringing (translation: ignorance as culture) who both had teaching degrees, sheepskins that they felt granted them a superior and unimpeachable omniscience — and an endless rotation of televised public service announcements that came in the wake of the hippie era, a government-fueled attempt at sobering up the nation, which may not have been the best of ideas since we were still in Vietnam, being shocked by Watergate, and gearing up for the juggernaut of Disco.
I was one of the few kids where I grew up who never tried pot during junior and senior high school and my resistance held firm until the second semester of my sophomore year of college (Spring 1985), when a friend who I still hold dear to this day talked me into taking a few hits off of a bong crafted from an Agree shampoo bottle. I didn’t “freak out” and go on a Manson Family-style binge of murder and mutilation while shrieking the lyrics to Alice Cooper’s “Cold Ethyl,” and as a result I would occasionally smoke a bowl with friends at a party.
Then came my third year of college, or what may be more honestly referred to as my head-first, total immersion into 1980’s stoner culture. I lived in a single room in a basement suite of the dorms that was once the university's infirmary, and a budding stoner could scarcely have asked for a more secure toking space. I equipped my room with a multi-colored crazy quilt of movie posters, old photos and comic book promo ads, surrounding a large and comfortable bed festooned with comfy pillows, and the one item that no would-be opium den is complete without: the obligatory lava lamp. The icing on the psychedelic cake was my ever-growing record collection, and in no time my room became THE hangout spot for my friends.
Our smoking implement of choice was a two-hosed glass hookah named “the Fusion Plasma Generator,” and it was the lightsaber of water pipes; perhaps it’s because of the impact that it made at the time, but I will swear in a court of law that I have never gotten a better hit out of any smoking apparatus since. The FPG was the first in what would become a long line of bongs and such, usually one those plastic $30 pull-tubes, and an infamous pipe that bore the moniker “the Claw,” so named because it was a regular stemmed pipe whose bowl rested firmly in the grip of a nauseating dried chicken's foot. But such horrid sights did not deter my friends and I from getting wasted as often as humanly possible, a tight fraternity of stoners united in our utopia of love, peace, incense and junk food munchies. And sometimes we even went to classes!
During that year I became consumed with getting as high as possible as often as possible, and it definitely had an effect on my schooling, but seeing that I was in an art school in the 1980’s it was pretty easy to do everything while baked and get away with such behavior being written off as standard hijinx that the creative are heir to. And despite the easy availability of much harder drugs on campus, I stayed true to my leafy love.
That romance intensified the following year during my tenure as a resident assistant — or R.A. in common parlance — and I have to say that I was the kind of example that parents dread when sending their little darlings off behind the ivy-covered walls of higher learning. By the fall of 1986 I looked like the long-lost melanin-infused member of the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers, complete with Death Star-sized Afro, black karate gi top and prescription Wayfarers to hide my perpetual case of red-eye. I actively encouraged my hall full of freshman charges to get stoned and drink constantly, and they were mostly all-too-willing to oblige, adding drunkenness and drug abuse to their away-from-home rampaging carnality with nameless partners. At the time I felt like I was encouraging freedom for those former-high-schoolers, but in retrospect I realize that I aided in the scholastic crash-and-burn of some of those kids. I know they had the choice to say “no,” but I have to admit my part in what went on, despite my attempts at cultivating the image of a post-modern, psychedelic Pied Piper. “Do what thou wilt,” indeed. Stupid, and wasteful. (Hell, I even got away with passing off an entire semester’s worth of intoxication and sordid sexual encounters by telling the dean to her face that I had skipped classes due to what I thought was the onset of a totally fictional case of “congenital blindness” that supposedly plagued my family, a performance that allowed me to continue my education for another year and finally graduate, but that’s a story for another day’s posting…)
My hall quickly became notorious on campus for its rampant stonerism, but if ever there were an example of “hide in plain sight” then I was it. Yet, as things are wont to happen, I was eventually found out by my boss — a clueless motherfucker to an absurd degree, who was a pitifully self-loathing Born Again Christian/closeted homosexual momma's boy — after being inadvertently ratted out by another hard-partying R.A. who gave me up while being reprimanded for his own peccadilloes, and I was quietly ejected from my position so as not to embarrass an administration that somehow never noticed — or cared — that such a shameless partier had been allowed to gallivant around unchecked for nearly the entire school year.
The following fall I ended up in the school’s apartments for a semester, an even more ideal setting for all manner of unchecked debauchery, and became host to several spectacular keg-and-weed shindigs that culminated with me being described in a student senate session as — and I quote — “a detriment to learning on campus,” a designation that still fills me with pride thanks to the person who dubbed me thus being a complete and total asshole who hadn't seen a trace of pussy since he slid out of his mother's. During this time a high school friend of mine joined the United States Marines and gave me a three-and-a-half-foot two-chambered bong that he christened “Nuke.” Unless you had arms long enough to make the reach, Nuke required another person to light it, and needless to say, the legend of the great beast made the rounds among the campus’ stoners and other riff-raff, attracting low-lives like flies, all of whom sought to get "nuked." By the time the Spring of 1988 rolled around, I only had one class left to complete before I graduated and could no longer reside on campus, so I left Nuke in the capable hands of the Beer Police (more on them in future postings) where it eventually had to be destroyed to end the growing tide of unsavory stoner pilgrims who sought to test their mettle against its mighty evil.
Spring of 1988: two of the Beer Police (Smoky and Senter) experiment to see if Nuke can be utilized rectally.
With college finally done I found myself back home for a little over a year, still smoking cheeba when I could, even hosting a now-legendary weekend-long “weed fest” during the summer of 1989 while my mother was out of town touring Greece. My Westport home became so vaporous — even with the windows and screen doors open — that it resembled the surface of Venus, and my college and high school friends in attendance littered the couches, beds, floor and lawn in a state of near-catatonia. For my own part, at one point I found myself upstairs away from the rest of the partygoers with a favorite college friend who had thoughtfully brought a bag of psychedelic mushrooms, a bag that she and I devoured and soon we were tripping our faces off. For all intents and purposes, I feel that weekend was the true and excellent coda to my youthful drug experiences, but my days of brain cell destruction were far from over.
I moved to New York in early 1990 and it was there that I found out the comics industry is a repository for drunks and drug abusers of all stripes, and discovered that my years of collegiate indulgence amounted to training for the much more hard core world of adult stonage. For years I smoked and drank with abandon, eventually seeing my much more expensive pot habit supplanted by much alcohol binging, a state that reached a self-destructive peak, or nadir if you prefer, about six years ago. I have reigned in my clearly addictive behavior considerably since then, sticking almost strictly to beer as intoxicant of choice, and not really giving much of a damn about pot anymore, kind of a “been there, done that” thing, and I marvel at the enthusiasm of the new generation of stoners, an enthusiasm I shared just as ardently during my misspent youth.
All of that crossed my mind the other day, my synapses ignited by that first familiar drag of a really good joint. Nostalgia sure is a motherfucker.