Brainiac On Banjo #073: Weed Thrills, Part One

So, what’s it like to wake up one morning after a decade-long nap only to discover that you have to take your shoes off at the airport, same-sex marriage is legal and you can buy the demon weed marijuana over-the-counter in 17 states and counting?

I dunno. Go ask a Trumper.

Marijuana has been a major part of our popular culture for over a half-century and was a significant background aspect for at least another 30 years. It has ruined many lives: hundreds of thousands of largely young people have been arrested and imprisoned for using the stuff, particularly in America’s communities of color. Once imprisoned you are forever a convict and life after incarceration has been pretty well laid out for you: minimum wage jobs if you’re lucky, restrictions on your movements locally and internationally at least while you’re on parole, and ostracization by the masses of hypocritical assholes who think your private behavior is any of their business.

Then there’s the cost of investigating, prosecuting, and incarcerating users. We can’t afford to maintain our nation’s infrastructure or feed the poor or provide adequate health care to all but the rich or lucky, but, damn, we can spend hundreds of millions of dollars cosplaying human weed killers.

So I view the growing legalization as a good thing, and I feel this is a conservative issue. The conservatives used to embrace a right to privacy, often thought of as “mind your own business and don’t make anybody’s business the government’s business.” Maybe that’s a liberal point of view these days. Let me tell you how and why I bought my first “nickel bag” of marijuana.

When I was nearly 18 years old – back in 1968, long before the invention of streaming teevee – I was returning home from a visit to Chicago’s hippie district. Indeed, I had just passed through the turnstile at the Sedgwick “L” station, a beautiful terra-cotta Classical Revival building honoring the work of Italian Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio. Okay, some hippie comic book editors are into architecture; go know. As I entered the small anteroom a Chicago police sergeant muttered “Hey, kid!”

I knew he was the real thing as he weighed about 400 pounds, quite typical for the time. The police costume and Rick Nielsen-inspired checkerboard cap sealed the deal, and I thought the shit just might hit the fan. As I approached, Mister Sergeant took out a small bag. “Hey, kid. You know what this is?”

I muttered I did not, and he responded “Bullshit.” Now my uh-oh sense was tingling like a glowworm on the Third Rail. “Do you want this?”

I dropped the pretense of innocence and replied in my finest 17-year-old wiseass accent, “How do I know you won’t bust me for it?” In a fit of logic, Mister Sergeant informed me he would most certainly bust me if I did not take it. Hmmm… now I’m playing the odds. No way out of this one. “How much?” I asked.

“Five bucks” Mister Sergeant replied. Wow. This guy thought a nickel bag actually went for a nickel. I shrugged, gave him the Lincoln, and took the bag. Within about a half-minute the bell and lights went off, informing me my L train was about to land. I walked up the stairs and got on the train, but I didn’t begin to breathe for a couple stops. When I got to where I was going, I rolled up a joint and thought it was the best stuff ever grown on the planet. I suspect this was less due to the THC content and more to my overwhelming sense of relief.

A couple months later the Chicago cops beat the shit out of me and several hundred of my closest friends, but that’s another story, one not involving hidden pleasures.

I am revealing all of this because I just came back from my first trip to Chicago since rec weed was legalized January 1st. One would think I might have bought some legally just to memorialize the event and the history of whatever it was that made me who I am today. Maybe I’d even sneak a toke or two in public (which remains illegal) at the Sedgwick station, with a nod of gratitude to Mister Sergeant.

What happened? Well, what just happened was I ran out of bandwidth. I’ll tell you the rest of this compelling yet educational story next week.

Assuming I remember.