We awoke. It was the frightful morning after.
“What happened?” Asked Nega Nate, holding his head gingerly.
“I don’t know. Whatever you put in that fire sent us spinning. I remember laughing.” I looked out at the world beyond the cave. The storm had stopped. A huge, amorphous column rose into the sky, as if part of the world had become the inside of a lava lamp. “What is that?”
“The beginning,” Nega Nate got up and walked to the entrance. “Or end, depending on how you look at it.”
“The storm is over?”
The fire had burned through the night, filling our lungs with smoke, its heady vapors giving reprieve from the chaos outside. The robot was still there, anchored to reality, as the story demanded. It stared at the column, recording the slow end of everything for no one.
With nothing to do and nowhere to go, I decided to continue my tale.
The first time I got high I couldn’t stop eating pumpkin seeds. Pat told me I had parasites and that if I ate a bunch of raw pumpkin seeds it would kill them. I bought a giant bag. They tasted like shit. I left the green seeds sitting on my countertop, uneaten. Then Hruza shoved cameras up my butt and found out it wasn’t parasites, it was Chron’s. In an act of doctorly good will, he prescribed temazapam to help me sleep. That night, I took one of the yellow capsules and fell into a deep slumber.
I awoke the next morning unable hear. My ears were stuffed with wax. I got up to wash them out but on my way to the bathroom the hallway shifted, twisting sideways like a cork screw. I stumbled, flailing wildly, and fell. Lying on the ground, I wondered what Dr. Hruza would prescribe to counteract the side effects of the sleeping pill he’d given me to counteract the side effects of prednisone.
In the shower, the world kept spinning. The familiar hiss of water was muffled and distant.
At my computer, I googled temazapam. The pill was a benzodiazepine that worked by suppressing the central nervous system. Its side effects included clumsiness, dizziness and insomnia.
“Insomnia?” Asked Nega Nate. “It’s a sleeping pill.”
“You sleep as long as you’re on the stuff, but then your body becomes addicted. Pretty soon you need them just to close your eyes.”
Nega Nate nodded knowingly, his hand touched one of the many runes carved into his flesh. “Miracles come with consequences.”
Marijuana had recently been legalized in Colorado, not for everyone, just for those who could get a prescription from a doctor. The process was a joke. You could fake chronic back pain and an hour later be a registered patient, able to purchase pot at one of several hundred locations.
I’d never taken an illicit substance, but I knew that marijuana came in two varietals: indica and sativa. Sativa increased your energy and creativity, indica put you on your ass. I grabbed my phone and called Daniel.
“What’s up, Nathan?”
“Dan, the man. How are things?”
Daniel was my boss. When I began writing these books, it was to explain to him why I’d been missing work. Two years later, I’m still trying to figure it out.
“I need some weed,” I said. “Do you know of an edible that will help me sleep?”
“What?” Daniel had been offering me hits from his stash for years. Until that morning, it hadn’t been my thing.
“Seriously, dude. I’m pretty sick.”
I’d visited Daniel’s office a week or so before, maniacally crossing town, skinny hands on awkward wheel, terrified I had lost my job. I walked into his office, 35 pounds under weight, sleep deprived and on the verge of hallucinations. A smile spread across his face, “What’s up, man?”
I tried to speak but the words caught in my throat. I spread my pale arms, palms out, showing my frail form, as if the wraith I’d become were explanation enough. I wanted to tell him what I’d been through, about the dark days and the awful pills, but the words wouldn’t form. Tears started running down my face, long rivulets that splashed on my shirt. Then, finally, I broke down sobbing, “I’m a mess.”
It’s in the unexpected moments that our personalities shine through. Daniel didn’t get up. Instead, he reached out his arm, placing his elbow in the middle of the desk, his hand angled toward me as if we were climbing a steep hill and he was giving me a hand. I sat in the swivel office chair across from him, grabbed his hand with both of mine, lowered my forehead and began sobbing into the mass of fingers, “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry. It’s the pills. I should have called.”
Daniel didn’t care, “It’s alright, buddy.” He put his left hand on the side of my face, a quarter back reassuring his injured receiver. “You have a job waiting for you when you get well.”
A sacred gift, a blessed promise. My trials would not last forever, and when they were over, I still had a job. A few weeks after that poignant moment, I was once again asking Daniel for a favor, for marijuana to help me sleep.
“I know just the thing.”
Daniel was an entrepreneur, a 20 something business man who ran his own print shop. I’d been his employee for quite some time. Most of the people who hired us were marijuana dispensaries. Weed had only recently become legal for medicinal use. Over night, hundreds of pot shops opened and all of them needed logos, fliers, websites and t-shirts. Investors poured money into the burgeoning market. Daniel capitalized on the demand. The growers and dispensaries trusted him because he was young, because he was one of them. He had contacts all over Denver.
“I’ll stop by your apartment after work.”
Daniel showed up later that night with a handful of candies wrapped in silver paper.
“Cheeba Chews. Indica.” I read the label. “Didn’t we do work for these guys?”
I looked down at the candied drugs, “Their logo is terrible.”
“That’s a decca dose,” said Daniel. “It’s ten times as potent as their regular candies. You’re going to want to be careful.”
“How much should I take?”
“I don’t know, you’ll have to to feel it out.”
Nobody knew anything about marijuana in those days. Edibles were especially chaotic as there were no standards for potency. “Try a fifth and see how you do. Wait at least an hour before you take any more.”
“A fifth?” The Cheeba Chew was smaller than a fun-sized candy bar. I’d never done drugs, but a piece that small seemed unlikely to put me to sleep.
“That’s some serious medicine, right there. Go slow.”
Pot heads were always calling marijuana ‘medicine.’ It wasn’t. They’d passed a law, but it was still a drug, at least that’s what I believed at the time.
“How much do I owe you?”
“Don’t worry about it, just feel better, OK?” Daniel was a nice guy. He’d held my job open for me and brought me drugs. “I’ve got to go, Alecia’s waiting in the car, let me know how it turns out.”
“I will. Thanks, man.”
Later that night, I sat down with a plate and a razor blade and unwrapped one of the edibles. Inside was a brown, gummy candy, like a Tootsie Roll but softer. I cut the thing into fifths, then held one of the pieces up. I was 32 and had never been high. I used to be proud of that. I used to be proud of a lot of things, but life had pummeled me to pieces. I’d seen walls ripple and a rat where my penis used to be. There were voices in my head. I was depraved, sleepless and broken. My health was gone, my sanity slipping, the things that once seemed important had become trivial. Let others be proud. I just wanted to sleep. I put the candy in my mouth. It was gritty and overly sweet with a disgusting after taste, like eating sugar-coated grass. The mass melted, grainy and strange. I laid down. An hour passed with no effect.
Every comedian has a bit about pot brownies. The story involves eating a tiny amount, feeling nothing, then eating more, until suddenly, the drug takes effect. Hilarity ensues. I didn’t want hilarity to ensue, so I waited another half an hour. When I still didn’t feel anything, I put another slice in my mouth. I laid down again. My mind began to race. My mouth dried out. I got thirsty. I climbed out of bed. A body high swept over me, like sand falling through a funnel. My limbs went heavy. I wandered into the kitchen, pushing through a thousand pounds of knee-deep sludge. I needed water. On the way to the sink I realized this was cotton mouth. I hoped that was a good thing.
Time slowed, stretching off into oblivion. The glass of water filled at a snail’s pace. Next to the sink sat a bag of raw pumpkin seeds. I’d bought them because Pat told me it would shred the parasites in my intestines, but they were barely edible. Suddenly, they looked delicious. I ate a handful, savoring the texture and taste. I drank my water and returned to bed, but I couldn’t stop thinking about those seeds. I returned to the kitchen for another handful, then another. On the fourth trip I ate a banana and realized I had the munchies. It made me giggle. I sat there giggling, eating pumpkin seeds. In the midst of my glutonous, frenzy, I realized how important this moment was. It was my first time getting high. I needed to film the effects. I stumbled to my computer and turned on the camera. A sweaty, dilated face appeared on the screen. I began to sing.
I played back the song, watching with rapt attention. It was the most amazing thing I had ever heard, so funny and profound. I recorded myself watching the recording of the song. The double recording was even more interesting than the last, I decided to add another layer. I recorded myself watching a recording of myself watching the recording of the song. I ate another fifth of the Cheeba Chew, contemplating my masterpiece. I realized I needed more food. I went into the kitchen and began cooking. Steak and peppers with onions. It had been sitting in my refrigerator for more than a week. Even though my insides were no longer in pain, I found I didn’t want to eat. Writing always took precedent. Now I feasted on red meat. It tasted better than fireworks.
I decided my video experiment needed another layer. I aimed the camera at my face and recorded myself watching a recording of myself as I watched a recording of myself watching a recording of the song. I realized that this cycle of watched watchers was exactly like reality. For the first time, the true nature of existence had been recorded and I was the one who had done it. That was when I realized I was a genius.
I ate another piece of Cheeba Chew. The sand grew heavy, pounding through my limbs. My head drooped, my eyelids closed. Sleep ensued.
Dreamless slumber. Perfect black.
Nega Nate threw a handful of soot into the open air. It slowed, stretched, then drifted towards the column in the distance. “I hope death is darkness, no heaven, no hell, just soulful rest, reward for life’s cruel misery.”
“I remember when my stoner friends said weed would be legal, that it was medicine and could help people. I laughed at their delusions and figured it would never happen. Turns out they were right.“
“You think it’s medicine?”
“It was for me. I even got legal.”
“Back then you had to get a prescription from a doctor in order to buy weed.”
A couple of days later, Travis came over. He’d heard about my condition and offered to pay for my red card. Red cards were pieces of paper the government issued so you could buy weed legally. I climbed into Travis’ SUV and we drove towards the highway. Travis was a nice guy, a lawyer turned marijuana advocate. In the back seat of the car, his two blonde daughters played quietly with one another.
“Don’t tell the doctor you need marijuana for a sleep aid,” Travis said. “Insomnia isn’t an approved condition.”
“But that is what I need it for.”
Travis switched his prescription glasses for a pair of sunglasses. He was a slight man, angular and tall, a dreamer who believed in justice and the power of people to overcome tyranny. “Tell them you have chronic pain in your stomach.”
“I do, or did, at least.” I looked out the window and watched the city roll by.
“I know. I’ve been reading your blog.” He changed lanes and stopped at a red light. “Chronic pain is an accepted ailment, insomnia isn’t. It’s a stupid formality.” He pulled onto the highway and we headed west towards the mountains. “I’m going to hook you up with a red card, but I want you to make the dispensary where I work your provider.”
“Dispensaries can only put 6 plants in the ground for each patient on their books, 12 if they patient is buying edibles.”
This was the government’s way of trying to keep things in check, but like most policies, people found ways around it. For starters, there was no way to track how many buds a given plant produced, or how much each individual bud weighed. There were averages, but the shops were always claiming record yields from innovative techniques, not that there were enough enforcement officers to check up on them any way. So long as you had a big patient list, you could put just about as many plants in the ground as you wanted.
“I’m buying edibles. I don’t want to smoke.”
“Tell the doctor that. It means you’re twice as valuable. You’ll be able to buy medicine from any dispensary, but your provider will be my place of business. We’ll get to grow more bud because of you.” Now I understood why Travis was willing to pay my processing fee.
We drove out to a shitty part of town where a shitty office building stood by itself in the middle of a crumbling parking lot. Weeds came up through the cracks in the pavement, proof that life finds a way. “Come on girls,” said Travis, opening the back of his SUV. “Let’s go see Randy.”
We went inside where a couple of beat up office desks sat atop worn carpet. Behind the desks were two young pot heads, a guy and a girl. The guy had blonde hair and a dirty beard, the girl wore glasses and was overweight. They each wore t-shirts with the half-assed logo of their silly company embroidered on the breast. Each desk was covered in stacks of clipboards. The place was trying to look official.
Travis introduced me to the guy with the beard. He handed me a clipboard and told me to fill out the forms, “It’ll be $45.”
“I’ve got him,” said Travis, pulling out a stack of gift certificates and handing one to the guy.
I sat down on one of the many chairs and filled out the forms. It was the same questions I’d been answering in hospitals and emergency rooms for weeks. As I wrote, other people came in, pot people, with shabby clothes and children. Posters hung on the walls highlighting the medicinal uses of marijuana. I had designed one of the posters. It was all a bunch of shit. I was probably the only guy in Denver using marijuana for something other than a fun weekend.
I handed my paperwork to the dirty blonde guy with the beard who sent me to the overweight girl with glasses. She processed my paperwork, then sat me down in front of a camera, “Smile.”
“What is this for?”
“It’s an I.D. card, but you can’t use it to buy marijuana.”
“Then why are you making it?”
She shrugged, “I don’t know.”
The shitty, unofficial-looking building in the middle of a cracked parking lot was enormous, a sprawling compound. The overweight girl with glasses led me through a room, to another room, “Wait here,” she said.
The second waiting room was covered in more posters, but this one also had a television. The television was playing a pot related video. The main character was a shady looking guy with black dreadlocks, sunglasses and a beard. He was old. The point of the video was to teach viewers how to make hash. The old guy with dreadlocks took all of the trimmings from the buds he had harvested and ran boiling water over them. The water was strained through a series of cloth sacks. Each sack was made of progressively finer mesh that filtered out everything but the most potent ingredients. Once the process ran its course he was left with a substance that looked like ear wax. If you smoked the ear wax you got high as fuck. The video played several times before I was called into another room where another fat pothead asked more questions and filled out more paper work.
Con artists try to get their marks invested. If they can get you to spend $20 you’ll be more likely to pay $30 in hopes of recouping your loss. If they can get you to stick around for an hour you’ll be less likely to try a different place where you might have to wait just as long.
The second fat pot head led me into a fourth room where a skinny, angry looking doctor sat behind a desk. I felt like I had reached the center of a maze. The doctor sat me down and asked a bunch of questions, “Why do you need to get legal?”
Travis told me to say I was in chronic pain. He told me not to tell them I had insomnia. “I’m on prednisone and haven’t been able to sleep for months.” I didn’t feel like lying to a doctor. If it didn’t work out I’d still be able to get my medicine. I had connections. I handed the doctor pictures of my colonoscopy to prove I had Chron’s — photos of my insides, red and inflamed. He barely looked at them. “I’m only going to buy edibles.” I said. “I’m not comfortable with smoking.”
“I’ll mark that on your paperwork. That’ll be $75,” he looked up at me. “We accept cash and debit cards.”
The trap had been sprung. The place advertised $45 red cards, but that was just the front end processing fee. After you’d shelled out the initial dough and sat for more than an hour in a series of shitty rooms, you had to pay the doctor’s fee. They didn’t advertise the doctor’s fee. Even Travis had been in on it. Now I had a choice to make. Walk out without a red card, my afternoon wasted, or hand over the money. I had been scammed. I reached into my back pocket and grabbed my wallet.
The medical marijuana industry is run by a bunch of reformed drug dealers, the bad kids from high school all grown up. They fight and scam and beg and paw, all of them chasing the dream of easy money. Now the government had made them legitimate business men, but old habits die hard. The doctor gave me back my debit card. I took my paperwork and circled back through the winding maze of shitty, poster-covered rooms. Travis was there with his daughters, smiling and chatting with the owner of the place. “How’d it go?”
“Fine.” I wanted to tell him I felt ripped off, that he should have warned me about the doctor’s fee, but he was a nice guy who’d driven across town and footed part of the bill, even if it was with a coupon he’d gotten for free. The overweight girl with glasses handed me a meaningless I.D. card with my picture printed on it, “Here’s your green card. We’ll mail your paper work to you, it should only take a couple of days. The paper work will get you into any dispensary while you wait for your red card to show up.”
Travis, his daughters and I piled back into his SUV and drove across town.
“Pot heads,” laughed Nega Nate, “they never let you down.” Back in the cave morning had turned to afternoon.
“I guess. I feel bad, writing about Travis that way. He’s a nice guy, but also a fuck up.”
“Look who’s talking.”
“I must have made 10 logos for his various business schemes. None of them panned out.”
“At least he tried.”
“Dude has no follow through.”
“Said the guy with no follow through.”
“Point taken.” We sat in silence for a time, listening to the distant murmur of a world unhinged. “Is there anything to eat around here?”
Nega Nate looked outside, “On the other side of the realm, but getting there is dangerous.”
“More dangerous than starvation?”
“Probably,” he contemplated the blue sky and it’s earthy column of goo. “The rise is slowing. The tail will retract up into the mass. The whole thing will hang there for a while before it crashes back to earth. If we’re quick, we might be able to make it.”
“If we stay we’re dead.”
“Everyone’s dead eventually,” said Nega Nate. “It’s just a matter of sorting out the details.”
to be continued
Jordan’s beautiful daughter, Catherine singing the song I wrote the first time I got high.