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, oldĀ 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.

high and proud

Still

I had almost forgotten about the pot caramel I ate when it finally kicked in, with a bit of a whoosh, and suddenly the world slowed down around me.

I had just purchased a hand-rolled corn dog, with thick crunchy batter on it and a little cup of ketchup to dip the hot dog in. I’m not usually a hot dog kind of guy, but something about that particular dish at this particular time sounded perfect. I had had a few bites, but when the pot started working, I sat down promptly in the grass and ate the corn dog, slowly, and it felt different on my tongue. It was delicious, and there was nothing in the world besides me and the corn dog.

Then I remembered I was at the Pride Festival in Seattle, Washington. I looked up from the empty corn dog stick in my hand and realized there were thousands of people around me, and I got a huge smile on my face. I closed my eyes and let it wash over me for a while. Deep bass from the speakers on the stage nearby, sounds of laughter and chatter, an entire sea of people making sounds, and I could feel those sounds in my ear canals, in my veins, in my toes, the echoes of them all vibrating within me. It was wonderful.
My fingers felt the blades of cool grass between them. There was a small patch of sun on my right forearm that resonated there. The air felt cool against my skin. I forgot the sounds as I focused on my skin and how it felt there, then, now.
I’ve only used pot a dozen times or so, and it’s always been at home, generally on a night after I haven’t been sleeping well for a few days. I’ve grown to enjoy the way it just relaxes the mind, makes the world still, and makes me sleepy and cuddly and smiley and relaxed. Usually I’m on my couch with some sort of show playing off in the background, and I just lay there smiling until I fall asleep.
But this time I’m in public. I ate the caramel on my walk over to the festival, where I had planned to be with friends. But I couldn’t find my friends, and they weren’t answering texts, and it took the caramel a full 90 minutes to kick in, and now here I was, on a Sunday at 3 pm, high in a park full of people. People were drunk and high all around me, but this was just me in my own relaxed little world.
After a half hour or so, I stood up, and just watched things for a while. Then I felt myself following one instinct at a time, focused on nothing but that instinct, with only a gentle awareness of the rest of the world around me. I wanted to be closer to the music, so I meandered my way through the crowd until I could be close to the stage. I didn’t want to dance, I just wanted to feel the bass up closer. So I did. Then I watched a group of men dancing, and I stood there smiling, enjoying their movements and the joy they were finding in being there. Then I wanted to be closer to the large fountain in the center of the park, so I worked my way there. I let the cool mist of the fountain blow against my skin and I watched the people playing in the water, many of them naked there in public. I remember thinking that took Pride to an entire new level. Then I wanted to be closer to the Space Needle itself, so I worked my way through the crowds and dogs and bikes and people to that direction, and I found a nice concrete step to sit on, and I looked up at the grey-blue sky and admired the massive structure, which had the Pride flag, six colors in a patterned rainbow, flying on the top of it. The whole city was celebrating Pride.
I let my brain travel back in time for a moment, losing itself in history, and I remembered all those LGBT people who came before me. Kicked out of the military, boarded up in mental institutions and given shock therapy and chemical castration tablets, being sent to reparative therapy, being kicked out of homes and churches and businesses and apartments, being told they weren’t normal and natural and that they needed to be cured, being put in prison and put to death. I thought of all those who grew up in shame, who grew up in pain, who learned to hide themselves in plain sight. Then I opened my eyes and saw the flag waving, and I scanned the crowd, seeing each person there individually in that vast swarm of people. Living, loving, celebrating, dancing, eating, laughing, smiling, proud to be alive.
And my smile grew even bigger somehow as I lay back on the steps, grateful to be alive.

Aging Rock Star

Head-banging-Brain-Injury

The line to the bathroom is out of control. It was only a four mile drive to the local amphitheater, where my best friend Cole had scored free tickets to the Def Leppard concert, and, always one for a spontaneous adventure, of course I had said yes. I had significantly underestimated the traffic, however, so instead of taking ten minutes to arrive, it had taken over an hour, then another twenty minute walk from the parking lot to the venue. I am feeling like a ten year old child who should have used the facilities before the family road trip. My eyeballs are beginning to swim as the line moved forward one person at a time.

Finally I am able to stand in the restroom itself, though there are still six men in front of me. There must be 20 separate stalls in the room and I’m beginning to dance while I wait for my turn. Suddenly I feel an elbow in my back.

“Excuse me! You all don’t mind if I sneak in do you?”

I turn to see a woman of about 20 rushing into the men’s room. She is easily six inches shorter than me, her black hair cut in a bob. She has red lipstick, blue eye shadow, and glitter that sparkles on her cheeks. She’s in a black half shirt that exposes her slim stomach and a thigh-length skirt with tennis shoes.

“The girl’s line is just so long! So, I mean, eff it! I don’t care if I use the boys, and you guys don’t mind since I’m hot! Thanks!” She pushes her way into the stall that just opened up and keeps talking from behind the closed door. “You all are so nice, thank you, I’ll be quick!”

Several minutes later, finally free of the oppressive control of my bladder, I rejoin Cole outside and we make our way through the crowd to a hilltop, where there is open seating. There is a haze of smoke floating over the entire crowd, an obnoxious combination of tarmac, tobacco, and marijuana; it sticks to the insides of my eyelids, the roof of my mouth, and inside my ears and I realize I’m in a literal fog. It doesn’t take long for my head to start aching.

My attention is pulled in every direction by the people. Aged men in tie dye, sleeveless shirts, tight tank tops, and jeans with holes cut through the knees by a pair of scissors. Long jagged Mick Jagger and Axl Rose wigs in blonde, brown, rainbow, and red over thick sunglasses, even though it is night. Women in tight jeans or skirts, frilly tops that expose cleavage and navels and shoulders, crimped hair. Plastic cups of beer in every hand, plates heaping with nachos or fries, joints or cigarettes in many hands. A sea of lights shines across the hilltop as every third person clicks messages on their phones instead of watching the live music happening right in front of them. There is nothing quite so intolerable as being the sober one in a crowd full of drunk people, especially on a Monday night.

Cole and I find a spot to lay out the blanket and for the next two hours we listen to the classic songs of the aging rock stars. The crowd around us dances, flips their hair back and forth, grinds their pelvises together. The men’s eyes wander while the women dance in place like the characters from Peanuts, as if Schroeder was up their rocking out instead of a classic band.

Def Leppard sounds fantastic given their age. First formed in 1977 in the United Kingdom, the band had multiple chart toppers in the 1980s and early 1990s. Their lyrics and guitar riffs bring back nostalgic memories from my childhood.

Love bites, love bleeds, it’s bringing me to my knees.

Blue jean, baby queen. Prettiest girl I’ve ever seen.

Hey kids, rock’n’roll, rock on, lose control.

And the seminal Pour some sugar on me!… I’m hot, sticky sweet, from my head to my feet.

Despite the haze in my brain, I’m having a genuinely good time. After a while, I let myself sink back on the blanket and think about the band for a few minutes. These men must be in their late fifties at least, and more likely in their late sixties. They hit their hey-day literally decades ago, before the Internet, before cell phones, before Desert Storm even. Now here there are performing the same ballads for crowds of enthusiasts, ticket sales for this one venue likely well above 75,000 dollars total. I picture the lead singer kissing his wife goodbye, stopping off to visit his grown children and his teenage grandchildren, picking up his arthritis medicine, then heading to the airport to board a flight for the United States, where he has a pending concert in Utah of all places. He turns down the in-flight meal because his doctor has told him to watch his cholesterol. He naps against the window, snoring loudly. Upon arrival, he stretches, feeling his bones crack and pop and he thinks about how he isn’t what he used to be. At show time, he uses elastic bands to pull back the hard lines on his face, covers his face in foundation, dons an 80s rock wig and a set of clothing just like what he wore back on the Pyromaniatour back in 1985. He does some vocal warm-ups and worries he won’t be able to hit those high notes like he used to. He stretches a bit, warms up with the band, pumps himself up, then performs for a packed crowd who sings along to every word he has sang ten thousand times before, all while he gyrates his hips in ways that will leave him aching for days. After the show, he winds down with a glass of Ovaltine, calls his wife overseas, and heads back to the hotel where he hopes his aching knee will let him rest.

Cole and I leave a bit before the encore, and as we fight the line of cars out of the parking lot, I think about the status of American celebrity, where we will still pay money to see Chubby Checker twist, Cyndi Lauper just have fun, and Madonna pretend to be a virgin. And then I think how, even though Def Leppard makes it sound sexy, if I were really hot and sticky sweet from my head down to my feet, I would really just want a shower, and I realize that maybe I’m the one getting too old for this even if the band isn’t.