Labyrinth 7: Pot

Labyrinth 7: Pot

You might have noticed: marijuana caused me problems. It led to my arrest in Yosemite. Before that, the summer camp banned me because of it.
The first time I smoked it, a friend shared a joint of Thai Stick with me. We toked behind the local cinema, before entering to watch Woody Allen’s ‘Bananas’. We annoyed the audience with outsized laughter, but that didn’t trouble me. I’d found relief!
Before writing this, I wasn’t sure of my age when pot took over my life. But looking up the movie’s release date tells me I was twelve.
My dad forbade my sister from introducing me to me drugs, so my first high wasn’t with her. But once I’d smoked on my own, the rule ceased to apply.
Jan would be graduating in a few months, but already she wasn’t home much. She’d run away countless times since we moved to California. Now that she was coming of age, my dad ceased trying to control her. He didn’t drive me to Venice Beach to find her anymore. He didn’t me send me into the shadowy apartments where she hung out, so I could lead her to his car for the sullen drive back to Pacific Palisades.
Instead, I followed Jan into those places and didn’t try to extract her. In those days, Venice looked worn out. True, the apartments fronting the beach were well-maintained, colorfully painted, and nicely landscaped. But seedier places dotted the blocks further from the sand. Though I loved spending time with my sister, those dark, crowded rooms unsettled me. Smoke hung in layers below the ceilings; bottles and ashtrays crowded the end tables. People wearing suede vests, halter tops, and head bands squeezed together on dingy sofas. They gazed vacantly or talked too loudly. Here and there couples groped each other. I’d call them kids now, but back then I thought them full-fledged adults.
After I’d tried pot on my own, Jan gave her friends permission to pass me joints. After that, the apartments grew less threatening. I withdrew into a transformed mind. One place had a wall of irregular chunks of sandstone mortared together. Even now I can picture how the rocks bulged and throbbed as I stared at them.
When Jan and her boyfriend rented a place in Santa Monica, I began spending most of my weekends with them. My pot smoking increased, and I began drinking. The first time I combined the two the room spun, like a carnival ride. That was fun until nausea took hold, until I staggered to the bathroom for the inevitable vomiting. I learned the lesson. After that, I stepped outside for walks whenever the floor began to sway.
For two years, pot smoking was something I did on weekends, with Jan. At age fourteen, I began attending the Palisades High School, which served students in tenth, eleventh, and twelfth grades. I soon met Philip, a neighborhood kid who also attended Pali High. He had recently moved from New York, and his accent, slang, and Bob Dylan haircut struck me as odd. But he invited me into his home, and soon I was spending my afternoons smoking pot with him while watching Star Trek reruns. From then on, marijuana was my daily relief. I toked in the morning before school, during lunchtime, as soon as school let out, and before going to bed.
Pot slowed my thoughts, brightened my world, and soothed my heart. It also brought less happy consequences.
The first week of tenth grade, shortly before I met Philip, an English teacher handed out a list of 300 vocabulary words. We were to work through the words during the semester, with a quiz on twenty each week. I’d never been given such a long list before. I scanned it a few times and discovered that the words and definitions stuck easily in memory. I never looked at it again but aced the quizzes anyway. The next semester, when the teacher handed out another three hundred words, I’d been smoking pot four times a day for months. Now they didn’t stick the same way. Now I needed to study each week before the quiz. Memory loss was the first side effect of my new medication.
Other problems followed. I soon knew Marijuana was a poor solution to my angst, but it was the only one I had. I clung to it for the next ten years.
On the John Muir Trail, pot led to my second arrest, even though I didn’t have any in my possession. Rick and I hiked off the trail to Lake Thomas Edison, a reservoir with roads and high tension lines connecting it to Fresno. A large campground abutted the lake, with a store and post office at its center. Though we were camped a mile or so away, we visited daily. On each trip, I inquired after a package I’d asked my sister to send when I spoke to her by phone at our prior resupply stop.
While in Yosemite Valley I’d smoked every day. The rangers had taken my stash, of course, but there was always someone willing to share. It probably wouldn’t have been hard to find a seller, but I didn’t need to and didn’t try, not even as I prepared to set out on the JMT. I’d decided it was time to kick the habit.
I’d decided this before. In fact, I’d tried to quit many times. Always the habit had other plans, and I ended up caving in to cravings.
As usual, after a day or two of abstinence on the trail, my desire for pot grew fierce. By then I was in the high country, with no dealers in view. At that first resupply stop, I’d called Jan in desperation. I begged her to send me a bag of weed, and I looked forward to that package with something close to lust.
Yet day after day, the campground postmaster told me no parcel had my name on it. Even though I began to suspect Jan had let me down, I continued to go in daily, delaying departure from Lake Edison. Each trip to the campground brought another disappointment.
Our food supplies dwindled. I called Jan again. It took some doing, but I got her to admit she’d never sent anything. She blamed her lapse on fear of the law, but consequences had never troubled her before. I realize now that she—like me—struggled with so-called Attention Deficit Disorder. I didn’t know that term as a teenager, but I knew my sister was unreliable. I should never have expected her to work out something as tedious as wrapping and mailing a package.
It was time to give up. I told Rick we should hit the trail after stocking up again at the market. But he’d spent all his money. I didn’t have much myself, though I wasn’t broke. A kinder kid would have bought food for two—and anyway I’d bought food for Rick before. A wiser kid would have realized it was time to split from him. But to the kid I was, it seemed logical to urge him to steal food from the campground store. I’d been shoplifting for years and had never been caught. I suggested he load a stuff sack with supplies, then duck out the door when no one was looking.
The plan might have worked, but we had a reputation. One night we’d raided campground coolers for booze. We’d also scored a couple of big steaks, which made a great meal but led to our downfall. They belonged to a policeman on vacation. He did some detective work, worked out who had probably stolen his goods, then figured out where we were camped. He related his suspicions to the local ranger. So after the store owner reported a theft from his store, the authorities knew who was responsible. We returned to our tents and saw the ranger, the steak owner, and two uniformed cops waiting for us.
I knew the ranger. A pretty young woman, she’d been kind to me. I’d found her blond-haired, gun-toting image romantic. But she was frowning now. The thefts weren’t her beef; what pissed her off was our smoldering fire pit. I tried to convince her we’d doused the fire, so a buried ember must have reignited it. She waved away the lie and let the police take charge.
The retired cop took me aside. He was a big, stern guy with a mustache the size of a squirrel’s tail. I tried not to tremble as he confronted me. I felt mad at myself: why aren’t I tougher than this? The guy seemed plenty angry about the theft of his steaks, but he told me the other cops had decided not to arrest me for receiving stolen goods from the store, and he wasn’t going to press charges. Everyone knew I was guilty, but they weren’t going to bust me for my role in the thefts. I’d be taken to Juvenile Hall as a ‘minor out of control’. I was getting off easy.
These days, we’d say this wasn’t a lucky break; it was privilege. I was a white teenaged boy from a wealthy neighborhood. As I learned about my relative good fortune, I glanced over at Rick, the young adult with no fixed address. Handcuffed and kneeling in the dirt, he wore a bleak expression. We were only in this mess because I’d insisted on waiting for a package of pot from my sister, a package that never came. It was hard to ignore the parallel with the trouble I’d caused Brad back in Yosemite. I felt raw discomfort, which I’d later recognize as morality trying to get my attention.
The uniforms pulled Rick up and walked him down the trail. One led and one followed as he stepped awkwardly on the rocky path, hands cuffed behind his back. The cop in front carried his pack, holding it by a shoulder strap like an unbalanced suitcase. I was permitted to don my own. The ranger hiked ahead of me while the retired policeman brought up the rear. As we exited the site, I noticed Rick’s walking stick leaning against a tree. It looked more like a club than an aid for hiking, but it was important to him. He’d carved it with abstract designs and often fondled it as we sat in camp. I asked the ranger to carry it down for him. She hesitated, recognizing it as a crude weapon, then picked it up and brought it along.