He was about eighteen, pudgy, stoned; I wondered if he’d keel over in the BART car. But he managed to lurch upright when his Balboa Park stop came up, and that’s when I spotted the logo on his tote bag.
Cannabis Cup. The big marijuana fest at the San Francisco Cow Palace. That explained it. He’d transfer on Geneva, ride there on the 8.
I was getting off at Balboa Park, too, that afternoon last June. I queued behind him as the train droned to a stop, discreetly surveyed his peach-fuzzed cheeks, doughy limbs and glazed, TV test pattern eyes.
How did that Kurt Vonnegut lament go, about a youth spent building model airplanes and masturbating? It fit him. At least he wouldn’t be asked to pose for eventually-regretted event photos. Any savvy weed promoter worth his campaign contribution book would know enough to limelight someone else. This kid looked like a loser.
Probably not such a good joke for his parents.
* * * * *
No, you’re not reading a diatribe against marijuana legalization. Maybe weed should be legal. Maybe other drugs should be legal, too. They used to be. I haven’t done the research, defer to objective, un-bought folk who have.
You read only a public expression of my lack of enthusiasm. I feel as little enthusiasm for new casinos, and fatter ad budgets for state lotteries. A state may need lottery money, but anyone bright enough to call shots statewide must understand how cynically a lottery leeches money from the gullible poor. Such folk also must know how regularly the marijuana used harmlessly by some earns top-of-the-marquee billing in sagas of the Regretted Life: smoked every day while bombing out of college, turned to while gaining thirty pounds in post-divorce depressions, exuding fumes and ashes to stage set gradual declines, muddled capitulations, failures. Promoted as bold! daring! barrier-breaking!, and usually sized up in the long run as just another unromantic bad habit.
But oh, gosh, look at the money to be made on the stuff!
A barrier is coming down. Twenty-three states now permit medical use of what was flat out criminal only a few decades ago. California’s marijuana hauls in seven times more cash than the grape crop. Big Weed has money and motive to fund PR campaigns and bankroll pols.
How many Hummers could you buy with a legal weed monopoly in a middle-sized burg that still doesn’t have one? Remember: early cashers-in get a lock on exclusives, snap up the best seats. Corrupt the pols, corrupt the press; hire a young Artie Samish to ghost write a mayoral speech like:
Not one day passes here at Suckerville City Hall without a call from a worried mom or dad, concerned that medical marijuana intended only to alleviate the suffering of the gravely ill might somehow fall into the hands of our children. Parents, please rest assured: I have personally investigated state dispensaries, and concluded that only the professionals at Mercenary Medical will insure that their purely therapeutic products are issued …
… and so on. A monopoly franchise, moat protected; anyone who wants a legal blunt in Suckerville gets to go through you. What equity or real estate investment can offer that kind of return? All you have to do is juice the folk who need juicing and cough up an occasional donation for kids’ baseball uniforms, or maybe Suckerville’s substance abuse clinic.
Maybe some amoral would-be investors aren’t prepared to capitalize on that opening-right-now door for legal weed. Not to worry, greedy sociopaths! Other doors may open in years to come. Today public opinion would massacre anyone trying to promote legal heroin. That door might crumble eventually, and many tenders-of-big-poppy fields will watch for first signs of wobbly hinges.
* * * * *
Or have I stenciled too many DARE presentations into teacher lesson plan books, become a closet Puritan?
Many gray hairs shrug off youthful dalliances with weed (and with some other drugs, for that matter). Astronomer Carl Sagan smoked pot. So did entrepreneur Richard Branson, travel guru Rick Steves. I might be amused by straight-from-the-Physicians-Desk-Reference product names like Grand Daddy Purple, Old Mother Sativa and (my favorite) Trainwreck, but they don’t give the lie to claimed medical benefits. Consider this article about therapy for a former L.A. city councilman.
Still: I smelled weed on San Francisco’s south side more frequently than in any other place I’d visited, including Freetown Christiania and Amsterdam’s Red Light district, and those exuding the smell invariably looked as ripe for a drop through life’s cracks as this youth. The aging, prune-cheeked single on the 14 bus, with a People sticking out of a clutched-on-lap grocery sack, in sativa-stinking cardigan. The two-steps-out-of-a-homeless-shelter trash digger, wheezing on a roach next to a liquor store. Legal weed promoters want me to look at the Sagans and Bransons, but what I see on the street are the fall behinds.
I’d never met anyone on the city’s south side with a single good word for the weed dispensaries. Baggy-jeaned “patients” could walk out with legal weed, sell off dime bags on the clinic corner. Pure neighborhood nuisances, but the tax bonanza clinics kept getting approved, and local pols seemed remarkably inconsistent in opposing them.
* * * * *
He was on his way to the inbound 8 stop, all right. I caught up with him in the tunnel under Geneva, took a last, pitying glance as we approached the stairs. Perhaps younger than eighteen. A decent-enough looking kid. Maybe he hoped to Meet Someone at the festival — who wouldn’t, at that age? — but he’d be too wasted to talk to her. No, he’d sneak a smartphone picture of her instead, stare at it later in front of the bong.
Had I forgotten that long ago evening with my pothead roommate Jim? The evening that the poor bastard had finally gotten a date, cleaned up the living room, fussed over his long hair and clothes, presented a Jim I’d never seen before … only to quietly fetch his pipe after she stood him up, and toke up in front of the TV. No youtube or Netflix for a stoner to zone out with, not in the seventies! He’d probably watched a Gilligan’s Island re-run.
The boy was behind me now, walking with a deliberate, robotic gait. Attaboy, young man; concentrate on the essentials, that was how you did it when loaded; one foot in front of the other. Probably all a big laugh to him now, but eventually he’d be thirty, thirty-five (thinning hair, changing face, tougher to keep the weight off; you’ll see, kid, you’ll see) and perhaps still driving a cab or punching a cash register, thanks to all those on-the-bong hours, and maybe those long-ago weekends at the dope festivals wouldn’t be remembered so fondly anymore.
No, not such a good joke for his parents. But look at the bright side: he was probably ripe pickings for some predator-eyed entrepreneur at the festival. He’d come with the tote, hadn’t he? He had money. Someone would want it.