Brainiac On Banjo #074: Weed Thrills – The Stunning Conclusion!

Previously… On Brainiac On Banjo: 52 years ago, a Chicago police sergeant coerced your writer, at the time not quite 18 years old, into purchasing a nickel bag of the Demon Weed marijuana at an anteroom of an L train station, upon pain of arrest for possession of same. This led your writer to a life of lawbreaking, senior delinquency and sarcasm. In describing the event, your writer indulged in dropping the names of architect Andrea Palladio and musician Rick Nielsen, so we should add “pretension” to that list as well. We now reenter our WABAC machine, throw an ancient knife-switch and flow up the timesteam to… 2019… starting with a song lyric from 1968.

The future’s comin’ in, now / Sweet and strong / Ain’t no-one gonna hold it back for long / There are new dreams / Crowdin’ out old realities / There’s revolution / Sweepin’ in like a fresh new breeze / Let the old world make believe / It’s blind and deaf and dumb, but / Nothing can change the shape of things to come • written by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil

You can only imagine the magnificent confusion I felt fifty-one years later when my daughter and I made our post-legalization visit to Massachusetts. Yes, I brought my daughter to a legal weed shop. I don’t tell you how to raise your kids, do I? And, besides, she’s a full-fledged adult, easily more adult than I am.

It’s about a seventy-five minute drive to Northampton, MA, which is no big deal to me. I routinely drive much further for great barbecue, and, besides, Northampton has some great barbecue. It’s a wonderful town, home to Smith College, and sort of a flashback to those thrilling days of yesteryear. The town is littered with bookstores, cafes, good restaurants that are slightly underpriced, amusing earthy tchotchkes shops, and politically active and socially aware humans.

Seriously. I should have worn a beret.

Northampton also is home to several legal recreational weed shops. In case you’re so disinterested (which is your absolute right, and I thank you for reading thus far) that you don’t know what this means, recreational weed is cannabis sold to those human adults who do not have a medical card. Rec users, therefore, can eat whatever we want and blather on and on about how swell it is to have the sun, flowers, and Bob’s Burgers. Medicinal users are supposed to sit in their rocking chairs and vape while moaning about how sick they are. I can do both.

The store we went to, NETA Northampton (118 Conz Street, and, yes, that is the first time I’ve ever printed in a public forum the address of a place to buy weed), was newly built, large, brightly lit (grow up – I wasn’t brightly lit until I got home) and staffed with highly knowledgeable and courteous young people. I use a cane, not just at mega-conventions when some dickhead slaps me in the face with their backpack, so when I climbed out of my car to join the short waiting line, a staffer came out and asked me if I wanted a chair. That was a first.

The folks inside the place were… well, most of them seemed older than me, and I’m older than shit. Many of them were too old to be boomers. Granted, this was on a school day, which is relevant because Northampton is a college town. All sorts of stuff in all sorts of forms were proudly but conservatively displayed. I asked about one type of flower and my clerk told me she wasn’t familiar with it personally, so she asked the clerk next to her and he gave me the rundown. Upon leaving, I thought this would be a great place to open a comic book shop.

But my biggest surprise came when we drove into their parking lot and, once again, when we left. There were three uniformed policemen hired by the company to direct traffic in the lot. When one of them saw my handicapped card he personally directed me to a reserved spot near the doors. Again, to elaborate, the officer was in uniform and was wearing a badge and, I think, a sidearm. And he was helping me buy cannabis.

Remember last week when I said my first marijuana purchase was at the coercion of a Chicago police sergeant? Hey, times really have changed. When we left, another officer stopped traffic so that we could leave the grounds quickly and safely. At no point did the word “getaway” enter my mind.

It was bewildering. It was also nice to see they stopped tossing people in prison, thereby ruining their future employability and saving the taxpayers a fortune. The base of employees and customers was multi-racial and multi-cultural; you don’t have to be black to know that black people have been busted for weed at a clip vastly disproportional to their percentage in the population. Yeah, I know, Massachusetts is a Blue State and Northampton is the bluest shade of blue. But, still, they built this operation from the ground up as though it was the 21st Century.

A couple weeks ago – the week bereft of my presence on this forum – I was in Chicago hanging out with my illustrious, talented and wiseass friends in the comic book racket. Illinois had just legalized weed and, like the ten states before them, initial supplies were limited. It also was very expensive; I gather in order to maintain the massive network of street dealers.

Feh. I really wanted to buy and smoke some pot in tribute to that police sergeant who got me started down that weed-strewn road fifty-two years ago. But, hell, not at those prices.

Besides, if I paid that kind of money just to give the finger to that cop – who almost certainly is no longer among the living – I would be giving said officer the last laugh. This would defeat the purpose of my truly childish gesture.

But Max Frost was right. Nothing can change the shape of things to come. That’s great. I hate being bored and, besides, nah nah nah nah nah nah, nah!