Saturday, January 11, 2014

Memories of Marijuana—Or Dreams?

Some of the early headlines of 2014 feature the legalization of marijuana. Colorado now allows the statewide retail sale of small amounts for “recreational use” and Washington State is ready to join them. New York’s governor is considering easing that state’s restrictions on the medical use of cannabis. This week’s Time magazine predicts more states will follow these leads.

Hard as it may be to believe, I’ve never smoked marijuana. Not one puff. I therefore have difficulty visualizing the amount of Mary Jane that would qualify as recreational. Oh sure, I attended parties in Greenwich Village in the late sixties where joints were being passed around. But there were always enough strangers around to prevent me from trying it. I’ve always been a control freak and I wasn’t about to loosen up unless I was surrounded by people I knew I could trust.

My brother, Rick, was stationed in Germany around that time as part of his ROTC commitment. After he was discharged, he and some friends crossed Northern Africa in a Volkswagon bus/camper. His travels included Morocco and the Canary Islands. You can probably see where this is headed.

When he returned to the States he lived with me briefly in Manhattan. I learned to burn incense to cover the smell of his ganja. I worried that my upscale neighbors would send New York’s finest to the door of my brownstone studio. That’s about as close as I got to actually smoking weed.

My brother, though a year older than I, followed my early career path into computer programming. He worked for a time at Sears & Roebuck, where he bought a water pipe with his employee discount. That seemed as bizarre to me as if someone were to get mail-order contraceptives thru Reader’s Digest. (Remember, this was the sixties.) I began buying incense by the bundle.

After several months, Rick got his own apartment in the East Village. I still saw him regularly at the Spanish lessons we took together. These began in Midtown, at the Latin American Institute, and eventually migrated to Flushing, Queens, where our instructor lived. By coincidence, I also lived in Flushing at that point, with my first husband. When the formal lessons ended, my brother and I engaged Sr. Alfaro for private ones once a week. Rick drove us there after work.

I remember one evening, going across the 59th Street bridge, when we heard a siren behind us. “I hope we don’t get pulled over,” my brother said, off-handedly. “What makes you say that?” I asked. “You’re sitting on half a key,” he explained. My first thought was: “Why would the cops care if I had a key under my fanny?” And then: “What the hell is half a key used to open?”

When Rick explained that was short for “kilo,” as in kilogram (of MJ), I broke out into a cold sweat. “Honest, officer,” I imagined myself saying. “I didn’t even know it was there, plus I’ve never smoked it in my life.” Yeah, right. Hair to my waist, skirt up to my gotcha, next to my “brother” who looked nothing like me. So that was it. I’d go to the big house for something I didn’t do, without even having had the benefit of ever getting high.

As the years wore on, I would occasionally catch a whiff of marijuana smoke as I walked through midtown Manhattan. And later on sidewalks on Providence’s East Side. One evening last summer, I got light-headed sitting in our sunroom, with the windows cranked wide open. I discovered that my neighbor’s college-age son and his friends were sitting on their back deck, smoking. I suppressed the urge to call over, “I know what you’re doing.”

After awhile, I closed the windows. It was too ironic to imagine myself getting high alone, in my late sixties, after having avoided doing it with strangers in the late sixties. Which brings me back to recent headlines.

Medical marijuana dispensaries were opened in Rhode Island in 2013. My mother suffered from glaucoma and some peculiarities in my eye tests have me being checked for it regularly. A friend pointed out the upside if I ever get that diagnosis. It would qualify me to smoke pot legally.

I prefer to consider options with my eyes healthy. I can visit friends in Colorado, and maybe eventually in New York (more affordable). Hell, one of my classmates has a home in both states. (What did she know that the rest of us didn’t?)

Maybe when my friends and I turn 70 we’ll have a big girls’ slumber party. We’ll call it "MJ In Your PJs." Kind of gives new meaning to “Sweet Dreams,” doesn’t it? I’ll bring the brownie mix. And lots of incense.

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