27 July 2008

Smoking It To The Man

From time to time I grow nostalgic about various places I've lived, and few, apart from London, more so than the wilds of Mendocino County. I've all but forgotten the backbreaking labor, the 40 day and night deluges, the washed out roads, the blizzards, the mind-numbing, soul-killing heat and desperate droughts of midsummer, the plagues of insects, the provincialism and parochialism, the suspicious and/or shifty neighbors, in favor of reminiscing over the crystalline skies emblazoned with 40 billion stars and the intoxicating scent of the first autumn rains as they rolled off the manzanita and madrone leaves to reinvigorate the ubiquitous dust of summer.

Not to mention the sounds of fiddles echoing up and down the hillside like so many silvery gazelles as I worked late in the garden under a rising full moon while listening to Hot Potatoes, KMUD's Celtic music program, and watched the Yolla Bollys turn red and gold in the last light of the disappearing sun, or the warm, wide-open window nights when every sound, from that of the deafening crickets to the slightest stirring of a breeze somehow managed to fill the house. And there were the (mostly) amazing neighbors, their cooperation and eagerness to help, their good (if slightly askew) humor, the mountain parties that seemed to belong more to the 19th century than the late 20th, the slightly bizarre and thoroughly insular but still, once you got to know them, downright homey hamlets of Laytonville and Garberville and Willits, the almost unsullied air and the water you could drink straight from the ground... I could go on and on, but thankfully I don't have to because the New Yorker has just published an article on the quasi-legal marijuana trade that thoroughly disabuses me of the notion that I could ever go home again.

Marijuana was as big a part of the local economy then as now, but that economy itself was so much smaller than it is today. There were the occasional aspiring millionaires, but for most growers, marijuana cultivation growing was a form of subsistence agriculture, whatever you might feel about its effects on its ultimate consumers, whose impact on the North Coast/Emerald Triangle was probably more benign than malevolent.
Of course I saw marijuana in a different light myself in those days. Although I didn't smoke nearly as much or as often as many locals, I still saw it as basically a Good Thing, whereas today... not so much. In fact, were I ever to move back to the mountains, my unstinting and frequently shared view that marijuana makes people stupid, lazy and a drain on society would no doubt make for uneasy relationships with many if not most of the neighbors.
Nearly all the friends and neighbors I cherished so much when I lived there are gone now, in many cases driven off by the commercialization and institutionalization of the marijuana industry, and if that wasn't enough, there's always:
“It’s fuuun! It’s super-fun,” she said the next morning, lazily sunning herself on top of the mountain and smoking a spliff. “We’re gonna smoke it to the Man, you know?”
Those are the views of just one of the colorful dingbats portrayed (albeit with more sympathy than I could muster, but then the author appears to be a stoner himself) in the New Yorker article.
Northern California marijuana growing has been a multi-billion dollar industry for at least a couple decades now, but the "medical marijuana" ruse foisted upon the state by disingenuous growers and dealers appears to have permanently altered both the business and the culture, in my opinion, for the worse. As long as dope was at least semi-underground, people needed to maintain some wits about them to survive; now any slack-jawed yuppie moron with a calculator and a good patter in Hindu gobbledygook can transform himself into a "healer" or "caregiver," two of the euphemisms most commonly used for "big time dope dealer."

Not that there was ever as much accomplished politically or socially as Emerald Triangle denizens liked to imagine themselves responsible for, but any "movement" that ever was associated with marijuana has long since degenerated into the smarmy and self-satisfied hedonism one encounters in the frat rats and lager louts who consider a tour of Amsterdam's coffee houses the apex of cultural sophistication. Even if I were to soften my view on marijuana use - and lately I've been considering doing just that, if only because it wears one out to constantly be passing judgment on people who appear unable to help themselves - I'd still be faced with the dilemma of how to stomach people who persist in turning the use of an intoxicant into a moral crusade.

Do you see beer drinkers doing this? They get drunk, they shout loudly, sing stupid songs, occasionally fall down or drive their pickup trucks into telephone poles, but apart from a few country and western singers, don't attempt to attribute any special virtue to themselves for doing so. Not so with marijuana smokers, who brag about their own intoxication in the same terms that a particularly self-righteous Christian might use to describe his frequent attendance at church.
Emily nodded, and took another puff. “The forest is still getting cut down or whatever,” she said, watching the fragrant smoke swirl in the breeze. “But you’re still working out here. You’re still subverting the Man. And you’re getting people high.”
Subverting the Man? You are the Man. Subtract all the phony baloney hippie rhetoric and you might as well be driving a Budweiser truck for a living.


Anonymous said...

"might as well be driving a Budweiser truck" that's the best you can do? Big deal.

Yeah the NY'er article portrayed silly people, just as anyone who creates a lifestyle out of some object or "culture" (beer, weed, single speed bicycles, etc.) are.

You used to smoke pot a lot, now you don't and frown on those that use that do. Great.

The benefit of this legislation may be that laws based on misspent zealotry are once again proved false. As in the other places marijuana is decriminalized or tolerated, society in California hasn't dissolved because more people can smoke marijuana. And before you accuse me of being some weedhead w/ an agenda, I'm not, I'm far from that. I just know people who indulge and are productive members of society, not the whiny, pseudo revolutionary types you write about ad nauseum.

Anonymous said...

"I'd still be faced with the dilemma of how to stomach people who persist in turning the use of an intoxicant into a moral crusade...Do you see beer drinkers doing this?"

Does somebody as old and (putatively) intelligent as you really need to ask this question? BEER'S NOT ILLEGAL. Nobody's getting thrown in jail for pursuing their high, as long as their intoxicant of choice happens to be beer. If you're so worn out by passing judgment on people, try breaking your crankiness addiction and learn to mind your own fucking business.

Yes, I smoke weed from time to time, and I hold a fairly important job, own a home, and support a wife and three children. So fuck your "drain on society" bullshit.

In other news, have you been able to keep those kids off your lawn?

Anonymous said...

It would appear that smoking pot thins one's skin as well.

Jenna said...

Uh oh, Larry. You done scratched some Bob Marley records now!

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry that smoking weed affected your life for the worse at some point. As for me, I smoke the stuff about once a month. I *know* that any more would make me lazy, and I can control my use. Do I belong in rehab? Jail? Your proselytizing is as pointless as any drum circle, but a lot more dangerous.