Marijuana and I have been strange lovers. The first time I imbibed I climbed the three story ladder leading to the catwalk built to spy on shoplifters. Older coworkers at the local supermarket where I worked as a box boy during high school got me high. The highlight, so to speak of that first my experience, was standing at the automatic orange juicer and burrowing my hands in the ice meant for the fresh squeezed orange juice. The store owner paid me cover all the vegetables with soaked burlap bags not feel up the crushed ice.
The same coworker that took me up the catwalk gave me a few joints and packaged them nicely in a empty Juicy Fruit gum package, back when five sticks of gum was enough. I smoked behind a concrete wall in my back yard then sat for hours in my bedroom staring at the set of weights set that I had recently purchased at JC. Penney’s but would never really use. Had I not embraced Christian fundamentalism in high school perhaps I would have smoked more. I hardly had the bona fides of a ‘stoner’ as they were called in the day. Marijuana left me a little pensive and a lot paranoid as a teenager, but the rapid fire mania that characterized my smoking escapades came later.
In college and seminary I would smoke for a week or two and then have some kind of serious crisis that would cause me to forswear weed for a good year or two. The night I finished college, much to the irritation of my college buddies who had arranged a blind dinner date for three, I sat on the floor of a Chinese restaurant, on the phone with my father, confessing to him that I had been smoking and that I was afraid I would do something that night that would jeopardize my chance at a Nobel Peace Prize and world influence, the kind of which Bishop Desmond Tuto wielded. I was smitten with the Anglican bishop in those days and marijuana tended to bring out my grandiosity. My dad suggested I return to the dorm and remove myself from danger’s path. I thought that sound advice. My friends who set up the date disagreed with me and my father but I returned to campus and didn’t smoke again until seminary.
My seminary studies at one of the Episcopal seminaries in Berkeley was a difficult experience for me, especially in the beginning. I arrived at the school a young man, relatively comfortable in an academic environment hoping to land friendships with peers ready to toss a football, talk theology, and plan our own ascendancy to bishop. After my first semester, after I nearly quit my studies, I began to smoke. Doing so made the second semester much more manageable and, with a little help from my friends, and their herb, I began to relax. I also met some young people at neighboring seminaries not weighed down by family responsibilities.
My smoking helped deepen my relationship with my next door neighbor, Timothy. Timothy bore an uncanny resemblance to Hermey, the would be dentist of Burl Ive’s Rudolph the Red-nose Reindeer Classic. Timothy, like Dr. Hermey, was a misfit. He was in a PhD., program having come to the realization that ordination was not for him and that it was little more than a union card for Episcopal clerics. Timothy was one of the first gay men that I knew. He was kind to me, helped me negotiate the intricacies of seminary life, and had deep, loving eyes that I learned to trust as I stressed about that first year.
Timothy also liked to smoke a lot of ganja. I didn’t know that until I started to smoke my share. He actually discovered my use because of my failed attempt at using sacred incense to cover up the strong and unmistakable smell of pot. After I had incinerated several incense coals, loaded them down with enough incense to arouse any Anglo Catholic, I smoked my weed in my dorm room thinking that I had pulled off a successful cover up. No such luck. The entire 4th floor, two levels above me, was in a collective asthma attack and registered their complaint loud and clear with phone calls directing me to extinguish all flammables. I did so immediately, still very much aware that one day those soon-to-be-priests above me may have the opportunity to vote for me as a bishop, provided they survived the strange onset of steeple lung, that curious and rare condition that some of your high church types acquire from an inordinate amount of sacred incense and holy smoke.
Through those antics, neighbor Timothy discovered my vice and we did imbibe and we did discuss the New Testament and I did listen to him tell me about his adventures with other men that typically did not include clothing.
During finals week of my first year, Timothy and I were without any green and I constantly pestered him about the acquisition thereof. He finally came through. He had scored directly from his marijuana procurement professional and what he scored was nothing ordinary. This was high-octane smoke and it had the green fluorescent tint to prove it. Timothy brought his tall bong to my room, showed me a sample of the herbage and packed the bowel. It was late at night and, having acquired a small TV, I enjoyed David Letterman. I had not smoked from a bong before. Timothy explained that the water cooled the smoke down making the experience more comfortable. I was ready to relax with Letterman and the Misfit Dentist so I inhaled deeply as the green in the bowel burned into ash and smoke.
The inhalation I took was potent and powerful. My chest expanded uncomfortably and I did not like what how I felt. I coughed hard was not aware I was coughing. With Timothy standing next to me, his marvelous eyes worried so, he patted me on the back, took back his bong, and watched me for a while.
“I don’t think you’ll be needing more of this for a while.”
“No shit,” I replied.
After I caught my breath, I stayed on my feet and a troubling sense of myself found me. It was as if the marijuana had opened a portal or window into my being. In that deep look inward, I did not see anything there.
As I gained some composure, I began to get frantic and worried. I needed to talk to someone. Dr. Hermey’s standing there with his bug eyes, and his misfit anesthesia bong, did not strike me as the right person for a reach out.
“I need to call my therapist.” I said, as I looked the room over for the phone and her number. “I should call my therapist.”
“It’s nearly midnight,” replied Hermey, “Perhaps you could wait until the morning. She might appreciate that.”
“Yea, you’re right. Bad idea.”
Timothy relaxed some a little more confident that his dealer’s Humboldt County ‘Demon Green’ wasn’t going to land me in the ER.
‘I’ll call my girlfriend. That’s what I’ll do. She can talk to me.”
“It’s not too late to call?”
“Yeah, probably. But she’s into me. It’s okay.”
Timothy stood there looking a little sad, acknowledging the evening didn’t go as planned.
“Timothy, I don’t think I should smoke weed anymore.” I sat on my dorm bed. “That sent me for a ride. I think I saw my soul.”
I stood up, approached him, and then kissed him on his red bearded cheek. His whiskers poked at my lips, reviving me a little, like an acupuncturist might revive a semiconscious patient.
“Timothy, I love you. I’m not gay.”
“No, the thought hadn’t really occurred to me.” He looked down at his water pipe, cradled in his arms.
“You’ll be okay?”
“I think so.” He took his leave and left me alone,
Troubled by what happened, I needed time to myself. I didn’t like what I saw or didn’t see. Yes, I was under the influence of THC, but the experience felt real and authentic.
Probably what has made that moment so important for me in all these year He s, is the moments that followed in the next few days. As the government of China was preparing to mow down student protesters in Tienanmen Square, I watched the news and finished my exams of my first year of seminary. I also witnessed, though I did not understand it at the time, the beginnings of the unraveling of my relationship with my first lover. Weed, tanks, and romance all swirled about me in that little dorm room in Berkeley where I was given a glimpse that I was missing a few things. In the years that followed, I’ve had some opportunity to find them.