“Hey, that’s not too bad.”
“Thanks, Man.” I passed the J to Kenny. “Here, hit this.”
“Did you just come up with that?” Kenny inhaled on our shared joint.
“Yeah. It was in my head. It just came out.” It delighted me that the tune met with Kenny’s approval. I opened my mouth, gave voice to that which was in my head, and let it flow. I had acquired a used guitar some months ago, but only flirted with it. The music surfaced from a source not nurtured by talent or practice.
“Thanks. Hit this again, Amigo.” A real connection with a real musician. Weed was working for me.
We smoked on the stairs of an old abandoned hotel in the heart of Old Bisbee. An iron gate prevented trespassing but not imagining. One can see into the lobby of the old place and, once the imagination eliminates all the crap laying around, you can see the hotel when it operated in its Bisbee’s heyday.
Kenny-a handsome young Asian-American singer songwriter- and I smoked outside, on the hotel steps, but tucked away enough to conceal our misdemeanor. The musician had just played a concert in the parish hall of the Bisbee church I served. Once his guitar was packed up and his gear stowed, I invited him for a walk to get to know him before he made his way to his next gig. I’d acquired some marijuana of my own and invited Kenny share it with me.
Because of my gallivanting and high profile-even before my pot use-people I knew about town began to avail themselves of the resources of the church, namely the parish hall space, the chairs, and sometimes the kitchen. Though it meant negotiating with the matriarch of the parish hall, I typically supported the requests as an outreach of the parish. Episcopal Church polity gave me the final authority to do with the facilities as I pleased. I tried to use care in not wielding that power irresponsibly or whimsically, but if lending some tables and chairs to an art gallery opening had the potential to bring a newcomer in on Sunday morning, then I lent away.
A concert promoter lived in Bisbee and we hit it off. Short on live music venues that weren’t a bar, Sandy approached me about bringing Kenny to Bisbee for his music. I liked the idea, asked the church council for its input, and then let Sandy know we could do it. The concert went very well. People paid their cover charge-part of which went to the church- and enjoyed a glass of wine or soda while they listened to a young talent. Growing more comfortable with my new pot persona, I smoked weed just outside of the open doors to the parish hall, quite satisfied with my recklessness. I began to see that with the help of marijuana, I could endure the heavy challenges of my work.
In the few months of my new avocation, I grew more comfortable with my stoner identity. I attended to my work responsibilities. I hadn’t alienated my family. I remained free of problematic encounters (so far) of the law and incarceration. The word began to circulate that I was now a burner. When asked about the veracity of the claim, I didn’t not deny it. In fact, I began to extol the effects of marijuana and found plenty of people in my small town that agreed with my assessment.
One of those people was Tanya who worked at a small café. She and I bantered about nicely when I went into her place for a sandwich or if we bumped into each other at the supermarket. When Tanya learned of my usage, she invited me to her upstairs apartment in Old Bisbee to smoke. Delighted with the opportunity, I quickly found the time to climb her metal stairs and see what the encounter offered. While we smoked, I learned of her former background as a Christian conservative. I also learned of her unique living situation and met her roommate who was in gender transition. I happily told her about my progressive Episcopal Church and the strides it had made to include folks of different sexual orientations and registrations. I was not uncomfortable with the orientation of her roommate. I was uncomfortable when she smacked me on my lips with her own.
We’d been sitting at her coffee table, huddled around her glass pipe and grass. At that point, I had smoked with one female, Adam’s friend, at the pottery bake. With that exception, all my other fellow tokers, were male. Tanya hit her pipe with her enthusiasm. The scene disturbed me. She displayed an aggressiveness that seemed unfeminine, especially in my own heightened state. By that time in my life and career, I had known, worked with, or married plenty of strong women. My seminary experience went much better for me because I learned to appreciate and learn from gifted women. Still, I knew what attracted me and didn’t, and Tanya, though I enjoyed our friendship, didn’t really do it for me. Besides, I thought she was a lesbian.
As I prepared to leave, I said my goodbyes to her and to her roommate. I wanted to ask for some marijuana to go, but thought better about it. The entire six months of my usage would be a consistent and steep learning curve about appropriate pot protocol and how one negotiated effectively in the green world. I thanked Tanya for conversation and marijuana, gripped the door-knob, but then stopped when she asked me to wait a second. Remember, I’d been smoking marijuana, so I was not entirely oriented to time in space. My back up against the wall, Tanya’s face and hair appeared in front of me. Her full lips then pushed hard against mine. I quickly recognized that I was being kissed. I also recognized just a teensy bit of cognitive dissonance when I couldn’t remember acquiescing to the exchange. It was not an unpleasant experience, but it did come as a surprise and did leave me, uncharacteristically, without words. significant given my heavy consumption of herb at her coffee table.
“Thank you, Tanya.” I said, as I reached out again for the doorknob, more committed than before to using it.
“Come back. You know where I am.”
“Indeed I do. I shall. Thank you.”
The cool air sharpened me and before I descended the steel stairway, I paused to reflect on what just happened: gender transitions, coffee table admissions, wet-lipped release of inhibitions. This was not your typical pastoral visit to welcome a newcomer to church.
I probably would have pondered more on the circumstances I had just left, but I had reliable intelligence about a noteworthy poker game taking place nearby. I learned from a friend that a group of Tucson elites visited Bisbee once a year to get away and to play cards. Among the gamblers? The mayor of Tucson. This information interested me quite a bit because one, important people in important positions always has interested me; and two, I wanted to be an important person in an important position and hoped that my interest in number one could help lead to number two.
I left Tanya’s steel stairs and headed uphill rather than down. The full effects of the herbage I just smoked kicked in and I took nothing in around me but my own footsteps. I walked a few steps and there appeared, in front of my eyes, not Tanya’s full lips, but a white marijuana joint in the hand of a man I knew not.
“Want to get high?” Said the cigarette.
“Sure.” Said I.
The hand belonged to a good-looking man who was probably in his fifties and took good care of himself.
He looked a little bit like actor Owen Wilson, with his playful sandy blond hair and bright eyes.
He inquired of me and my life.
“What’s your deal?”
“I’m the Vicar of Bisbee. I’m an Episcopal priest. I’ve been smoking marijuana lately.”
“No shit. I’m currently smoking marijuana with you, if I’m not mistaken.”
“You are not mistaken, my friend.” Owen went down a couple of stairs and called into a room of men sitting around a large table decorated with beer bottle, playing cards and poker chips, and random piles of cash.
“Hey Guys, come on out. The cards aren’t going anywhere. Finish the hand and get some air.”
They acknowledged Owen and said they’d do just that. It then occurred to me that this was indeed the Tucson party of gamblers who had with them the CEO of that city. I began to consider how this occasion might elevated my career.
They paused their game and began to surface in the back alley where Owen and I stood. Some joined us at the joint, others had a cigarette, and a couple wandered down the road taking a look around. Each man could have been a model for LL Bean.
“Check this out.” Said Owen, “He’s a priest.”
“What’s he doing smoking pot if he’s a priest?” said one gambler.
“I’m trying to find my adolescence,” I said as I handed the smoke to Owen. “I don’t know what I did with it.”
“That’s cool,” said another who wore a purple Polo sweater vest. “I wanted to be a priest.”
“You a priest? You can’t stay away from pussy,” said Owen.
“Nope. And you can’t stay away from weed.”
“That’s fair,” Owen replied as he handed the joint to Sweater Vest and then exhaled his spent smoke up, into the stars.
A few of the men became interested in me and my work and asked me some questions about what I did.
I chatted them up as best I could given my state that only increased due to Owen’s supply. It struck me, at that moment, to move the conversation along, to make the shift from acquaintances and pleasantries to a headier discourse on economics and sound policy so as to foment a few solid professional relationships. I knew just what to say.
“Hey, isn’t one of you guys the Mayor of Tucson?” It became strangely quiet. “You guys do this every year, right.”
In about thirty-seconds’ time and without anything in the way of goodnight, the whole dispersed crew found their way back inside. Owen was the last to go inside.
“Here, take this, Priest.” He handed me the small roach left from our session. “Good luck with the search.”
It was as if they all heard their prep-school teacher make back-to-class call and they effortlessly abandoned friends and politically advantageous conversation to find their seating assignments. I regretted my words ended our party and any revolutionary foment it might have sparked. But I did stick around, sitting in the stairwell to smoke Owen’s gift and to hear what I could hear.
“Who the fuck is that guy?” Said one of the LL Bean models.
“Some kind of upstart.”
‘Upstart.’ I comforted myself not with their company, but with their label. ‘I bet people thought of Jesus as an upstart,’ said I to me. ‘I’ll take it,’ I said, and continued my walk up the alley looking for more adventure.