Twenty-five years ago I worked in an overpopulated, violent, Level 4 maximum-security penitentiary. Two inmates were painting the office next to mine and I clearly overheard their conversation. One guy was African-American, the other white, both had lots of gang tattoos and were pumped from lifting weights, but they were working well together and discussing the nature of politics in the U.S.
Inmate 1: Oh Man, I miss Oakland.
Inmate 2: Yeah, Oakland a fine place, ‘cept for all the violence and shit.
Inmate 1: All them families, kids and old people and stuff. Shit.
Inmate 2: It’s still a good city, but it’s goin’ to hell fast.
Inmate 1: That’s Nixon’s fault. He’s fucking everything up.
Inmate 2: True. Nixon gonna push that button someday and fuck up the whole world.
Inmate 1: Yep. Pretty soon, the whole world gonna look like Oakland, California.
Nixon? This was in 1987 and Nixon had been out of office for over twelve years, but for those two convicts Nixon served as a metaphor for all government; uninformed, sneaky, vindictive, stubborn, dangerous and disinterested in their welfare. In 1972, during the Watergate Scandal, the President and his cabinet were exposed for the venal pricks and liars that they really were and we’ve never recovered. Even the most virulently committed party members will say, around election time, that they don’t trust their candidates. I decided that I liked the idea of using the ugly word, Nixon, to describe the most arrogant and threatening elements of government.
It seems that, lately, everyone has a Medical Marijuana Card. It’s cool. They’re in pain, disabled, undergoing chemotherapy or simply finding it harder to manage day-to-day existence. Me too; I get it. Life is complicated and sometimes I’d like a little bump, some external assistance, a few hours of benign intoxication. I’ve been have The Card for knee pain, anxiety, nausea, recreation. The dope came in the form of regular smoke or tincture of THC and I didn’t notice any change in their demeanor during the visits; no somnolence, rage, disappearing food or broken furniture. These are the things that I used to experience when I smoked dope. I may not be wired for marijuana.
The battle continues among local, state and federal government about whom, exactly, has jurisdiction over the Marijuana Clinics. The legal businesses can still be busted by the feds, and often are. The DEA is active, well funded, intractable, and the War on Drugs continues in the same way that the Vietnam War was prolonged under Nixon until, as a nation, we realized that it was a no-win demoralizing money pit; the President resigned, his aids were arrested, the USA was embarrassed and degraded. Black eyes and missing teeth.
Americans have learned that weed probably has medical benefits and isn’t dangerous, doesn’t cause outbreaks of aggression, but for some reason a lot of the voters still think that the feds should control the drug and keep us in line with arrests and fines and imprisonment. It’s all a little schizy and I figure I should get The Card now before Nixon closes down all the clinics.
A lot of my friends, people in their fifties, sixties and older, have gained access to “legal” marijuana. They have The Card and smoke, drink, eat a bit of cannabis in the evening, around nine o’clock. Get a little high, listen to music, read, watch some Netflix. They’re not getting toasted and driving around at 10 in the morning diddling with their CD players and giggling, blocking the drive-thru windows. They stay home and are trying to have a good night’s sleep. Sounds pretty damned civilized. I could get into that. Again.
Except that was never the way marijuana worked in my life. For me dope leads to brandy which leads to narcotics which leads to cocaine which leads to infidelity, theft and shouting, spitting, angry traffic incidents. Every goddamn time, unless I’m bedridden, and I can still create remote disturbances as long as I have access to a telephone. It’s been proven time and again. Jesus, could it be that I’m not a good candidate for The Card?
I don’t use intoxicants any longer because the above-mentioned behavior became too hard to manage. So I stopped. I watch other people, though, relations and acquaintances, and I am envious of their ability to get high and not offend anyone. Perhaps I’ve changed. Sure; I should get The Card. I’m aging and there are plenty of legitimate symptoms: back pain, vertigo, diverticulitis, financial anxiety, nausea, hair loss, external referral, creative self doubt, clumsy social interactions. Maybe now I can handle a little smoke in the evening without raging at the neighbors. No more yielding to the urge to instruct and educate others. Screw them. I’ll be loaded and if someone abuses my high I’ll bet I’ve changed enough so that I can deal and stay cool. Serene and modern drug use. Evolved. I will use marijuana and become transcendent, deeply moved by the music I’m hearing, the books I’m reading. I’ll be relieved of pain and I’ll sleep well. Perhaps I can avoid the frozen dairy products aisle at the grocery store. Smoke weed, calm down, and take off a few pounds. That’s it. The new approach to dope as a helpful, life affirming substance instead of my old “stoner” model where paranoia, indolence, weight gain and morbid thoughts followed the first joint. Possible. I always thought that if they gave every prisoner in the country two ounces of decent pot and all the Haagen Dazs they could eat there would be no more violence, gang wars, assaults. Convicts would all weigh three hundred pounds and sleep 20 hours a day.
I should get The Card whether I use it or not, so that I’m prepared for the future. Because it’s possible for Nixon to push the button and then the whole world will look like Oakland, California.