Pot and Coffee

pot

The morning was cold and rainy in Missoula, Montana, and rather than drive somewhere, I was in the mood to walk. There was a heaviness in the atmosphere, a wet weight that clung to the trees and showed up as wisps of clouds and fog across the sky. Against the dense green backdrop of pine trees and rolling hills, and over the river, the fog rolled and made everything just a bit magical.

My head felt full as I walked along the railroad tracks. The night before, the film crew and I had conducted a particularly heavy interview for our pending documentary, and I was still processing all the new information, the tragedy and pain of it all. The storyteller side of me was on fire, but the therapist side felt disheartened and exhausted. So, while the two sides battled it out, I walked.

After a time, I stepped up onto a road and noticed a small shop in an old brick building advertising coffee with a paper sign. It had the word ‘green’ in the title, but I didn’t realize what that meant until I stepped inside and smelled the pot.

The door opened with a small ‘ding’, a bell attached to the door announcing my entrance. The room was sparse, with a few black leather couches and some patio furniture, tables and chairs arranged against wooden walls and floors. It was an old building with a history, I could sense that much. On the back half of the room were lit up counters showing off baked goods, all of them edible pot concoctions, like snickerdoodles, lollipops, cinnamon rolls, and cookies, each wrapped individually or in bulk, each with a price listing next to it.

“Hey, welcome, man, how are you?” A skinny, good-looking white guy was behind the counter on a stool, shuffling through some business cards, probably looking for a phone number. He was likely in his late 20s and he had a killer smile. “I’m Kyle. How can I help you?”

I walked over to the counter. The shop was completely empty except for the two of us. “I saw your sign for coffee. It’s cold, sounded nice.”

“Right! Coffee!” Kyle stood up quickly and enthusiastically, knocking his stool back a bit. He caught it with a hand and set it down with a little flair, like he’d just done a magic trick, then he laughed. “Yeah, man, I got a fresh pot in the back. Ill bring it right out. Take a seat.”

I found a seat at one of the patio tables, and Kyle brought out a styrofoam cup of coffee. It was likely something from a K-Cup machine in the back. “Coffee’s free, man. Just glad to have the company. Make yourself at home!” He got me the Wifi code and I sat down to blog as we chatted idly over the next few minutes.

Kyle explained that he’d grown up in Missoula and he loved it here. He was putting himself through the local college, working at the pot/coffee shop during the day and as an Uber driver at night. We laughed about the fact that the shop had very little in the way of coffee. Kyle had a local girlfriend and talked about his philosophies of just getting through life by being a good person. As we chatted, old Metallica songs from the 90s played on the overhead speakers.

Soon the bell dinged again and Kyle rushed out of his seat again to rush to the door. “Evelyn, welcome, lady! How’s your rainy day?” He held the door open as a woman in her mid-60s entered. Her hair was gray and plastered against her head. Her face was angular and she wore a thick and baggy brown coat. She was hunched over, clearly in pain, and she had a cane supporting her weight. She slowly made her way into the store.

“Oh, Kyle, I’m well, thank you, dear. Do you have my usual order ready? My arthritis is something terrible in this weather.”

“I do, yes, ma’am. Enough to get you through the week.”

“You’re a lifesaver. My grandchildren are coming over this weekend.”

I watched casually as Kyle brought out an order from behind the counter, seven individually wrapped baked goods that Evelyn would presumably use daily to help keep her pain levels manageable. I wanted to ask her how long she had been using pot, and if she’d ever tried prescription painkillers in the past. As a therapist, I had known so many clients over the years who had struggled with chronic pain issues. From cerebral palsy, or multiple sclerosis, or old injuries, or chronic migraines, or recovery from a surgery. I thought of them self-medicating with alcohol or addictive medications that had harsh side effects. Now here she was, in a state that had approved medical marijuana use, picking up an order of cookies that would keep her pain levels down and keep her relaxed while allowing her to be with her family and grandchildren, not impaired and not constantly suffering.

Evelyn left, after sipping on some free coffee from Kyle, and another man came in, Bill, him talking about his anxiety after a car accident that left him with a traumatic brain injury, and after that, Sam, a younger man who struggled with severe headaches. After that, there was a lull, and Kyle came back by to chat.

“So you just see customers every day who come in for their orders?”

“Yeah, man, absolutely. These are good people. They just have to get the doctor to approve their cards, then they have the right to pick up their alloted order. I mean, before it was legal here, they would just do it anyway, but they could get in trouble for it. Now it’s legal and it’s regulated.”

I only stayed an hour, collecting my thoughts on paper and sipping my free coffee. Soon, I had my bag back over my shoulders and my coat zipped up. I offered Kyle a hearty handshake before stepping back out into the drizzle, the fog, and the green, sorting through my thoughts. My time in Missoula was at an end, and somehow this seemed the perfect way to go. The two different sides of me, the storyteller and the helper, had stopped arguing with each other, finding kinship in a man who helped others by baking cookies and legally dealing drugs.

And so with the taste of cheap coffee in my mouth, the scent of marijuana on my clothes, and my head full of things to get done, I stepped back on the railroad tracks to walk toward home.

regarding Hillary’s America…

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In high school, I read a particular issue of Captain America, one during the long run by writer Mark Gruenwald. See, Cap grew up in the 1920s and 1930s, the depression era America, and then entered World War II idealistic and with a clear sense of right and wrong. After all those decades frozen in the iceberg, modern writers love taking those old school values of the American dream and measuring them up against the modern problems of today, seeing if the values hold up. Cap fights against Nazis, that’s an easier battle, but when he is put up against a corrupt American politician, or police violence, or race issues, well the moral struggles he have to go through become fascinating.

Anyway, in this particular issue, a group of Neo-Nazis based in America were putting on a rally in a public space. A deplorable cause, sure, but even Neo-Nazis have the right to peaceably assemble granted by the Constitution. Well, a group of individuals sought to attack the Nazis, and Captain America had to fight them in order to protect the Nazis, whose cause he abhorred. A true hero, that Cap, but if this were real, imagine how he would have been torn apart on Fox News, on CNN, and in the public debates by both Democrats and Republicans.

See, I like my ethics sticky like that. The idea that in order to stand for free speech, that means free speech for everyone, even those I disagree with. In fact, those I disagree with deserve protection under the law, even though their cause goes against my moral code. Thanks, Captain America, for the lesson.

And ethics are always sticky like that. Laws can be twisted and interpreted in a million little ways to benefit those who seek to benefit from them. Causes like gay marriage and equal pay for women and women’s right to determine their own health and transgender bathroom issues and Muslims being allowed to wear head coverings in school and how to handle children of illegal immigrants born in the country, all these causes and on and on and on, they have to be fought for and changed in the very courts which seem to weigh down the process and make change seem impossible. And there is corruption, yes. Change in America is slow, and painful, and sometimes incredibly unjust. It takes a lot of time.

All that said, I do believe in free speech, I do. I believe in anyone’s right to speak up and stand for their cause, even to spin the truth in their favor, to use politics and funding and promise-making to garner their own benefits.

Years ago, I remember seeing a Michael Moore film about George W. Bush. I walked out of the theater feeling passionate and moved and outraged, but soon rational thought returned, and I realized that even though I’m not a big fan of George W. Bush, that the movie was biased, it was slanted to a ridiculous degree to foster opinions against Bush. I wondered how many Liberal viewers would take the time to restore rational thought afterwards, and not get caught up in the slanted music, imagery, and spin on stories that bolstered the opinions of Michael Moore.

Well, last night, I experienced the other side, the slanted Republican side.

In the film Hillary’s America, subtitled the Secret History of the Democratic Party, filmmaker and author Dinesh D’Souza, a naturalized citizen originally from India, purports that the Democratic Party is solely responsible for nearly every terrible thing that has ever happened in America, and then proclaims that Hillary Clinton is corrupt through-and-through with no redeeming qualities. D’Souza himself had previously produced a similar film in 2012, Obama’s America, which I have never seen, that was extremely successful among conservative Americans. After that, D’Souza was indicted for making illegal political contributions.

In Hillary’s America, Dinesh puts himself in the starring role. A rather homely and uncharismatic host, he opens the film with his prison conviction, stating that Obama had to put him in jail because Dinesh was a threat to him. In truth, Dinesh lived in a halfway house for 8 months, but in the film, he is locked up with hardened criminals and he learns all about how criminals get away with their crimes, tactics that he realizes the Democratic Party (not the Republicans, mind you, just the Democrats) use to win votes.

Dinesh takes himself to a Democratic museum, where on the surface is everything the Democrats want you to know about them, but he finds the secret basement that holds all of their dark corruptions. He learns that Democrats are the ones who wanted slavery and segregation, the ones who sought to sterilize undesirable populations (which they still do through Planned Parenthood, he says), the ones that shoved Native Americans on to reservations after slaughtering them. (Strangely, the film doesn’t bring up women’s rights or LGBT rights at all). It was always the Democrats, he claims, the racist Democrats,  while the Republicans are the heroes who have fought for equal rights and sought to right wrongs all along. He goes so far as to say that only Democrats owned slaves, and that not a single Republican did.

He then moves in to attack Obama for a while again, talking about how Obamacare is meant to deny Americans choices because Obama enjoyts power, and how Democrats want to control gun sales so they can keep them out of the hands of minorities who only want to protect themselves against racist politicians.

Then Dinesh starts in on Hillary herself, claiming that as a young girl, her primary influences were men affiliated with the mob, who were swindlers and loved power and corruption. He proposes that Hillary has had a long term plan to take complete control. He states that Hillary married Bill Clinton knowing that he is a rapist, and that she has acted as his dealer all along, providing him victims to rape and then later bullying those victims into silence so that Hillary can feel more powerful. It goes on and on from there.

The movie closes with a shadowy image of an evil Hillary sitting in the Oval Office, and this direct quote. “Imagine how much worse things could get if these two depraved crooks are allowed to return to the White House.” It then switches to an innocent little white girl in a white dress singing the Star-Spangled Banner in front of a multi-racial orchestra and gospel choir with patriotic images flashing across the screen and encourages people to vote Replubican.

I sat in the theater with shifting emotions, from jaw-dropping shock at the audacity of the all-encompassing claims, them hand-over-face embarrassment at how unashamedly biased the film was, then laughing out loud at the terrible acting and dramatic music that sought to drive the points home.

But I still stand by my sticky ethics statement. I believe in the right to make a film like this, whether you are Michael Moore or Dinesh D’Souza. But while I respect their rights to make these claims, I have no respect for either man. There are certainly corrupt politicians on both sides of the political landscape, both now and across history, and to make claims that one person or one political party is responsible for every evil in the country, it is just asinine.

It is easy to spin half-truths and make dramatic claims. But it takes much more integrity and vision to honestly explore complex topics and to stand up proudly and willingly listen to all sides of an issue.

I’ll say this, Mr. D’Souza, Mr. Moore, and all the other one-sided commentators out there. You make a hell of a finished product. But at the end of the day, your films/books/shows/broadcasts are basically accomplishing the very corruptions you are accusing your targets of.

Basically, you are the Westboro Baptist Church of political commentary.