As far as smoking pot goes, I never really had a chance. It was inevitable that one day I would. If you’re raised on a winery, you’re going to drink wine. If your dad is a ball player, you’re going to know about baseball. And if your pop smokes pot like he’s doing his best impression of Bob Marley, well, it’s only a matter of time. For as long as I can remember I’ve known what pot smells like, that sticky, skunky, sometimes citrin, or piney, or even possibly cat-pissy smell; but always that same unmistakable essence that made me know it was pot smoke.
My dad smoked every day. His brothers - my uncles - smoked. My dad’s friends all seemed to smoke. My mother, however, did not. She hated it. She’s allergic to cannabis. In fact, that was a leading cause of their divorce. But before they separated, back when I was a little kid, if I went with my dad to one of his friend’s homes - perhaps to watch the NBA Finals or a World Series game - they’d often set me up in another room by myself. Despite their efforts to separate me from their pot smoke, within a little while that unmistakable aroma would crawl under the shut door like the smells of a kitchen during the holidays. It was a special smell. Only far more frequent than the holidays. It was also something that was clearly adult. Despite the fact my dad inadvertently introduced me to the smell of pot, the first time I smoked wasn’t with my father. But it was with family. I was twelve years old.
I have an older cousin. He’s three years older than me, which to my young eyes meant he was worldly. That fateful day when he asked me if I wanted to go have some fun I couldn’t possibly guess what that would mean. I just hoped it would be dangerous and possibly illegal. This is what a twelve year-old boy thinks of as fun. But we didn’t end up stealing a car. We didn’t hop on a boxcar that was headed to the next town down the line. We didn’t take BB guns and tramp off into the woods to shoot whatever caught our eye. Nope. Instead, he asked me if I wanted to go for a walk. A walk? How much fun could that be? But I hid my disappointment and said sure. Based on how much ground we eventually covered, I’d designate it more of a march than a walk. That motherfucker dragged me all over town.
We’d driven out from California to visit his family in Pennsylvania. The day after we arrived, our mothers planned to spend the day together, which left the two of us alone. And I eagerly looked forward to spending the day with him because he was my super chill older cousin. He always had impeccable taste in music. Played multiple instruments. He’d painted his bedroom all black. In short, he was cooler than a polar bear’s toenails.
It was about thirty minutes after our mothers went off to do whatever it was they did that my cousin and I were standing in some bushes, behind a parking lot of a convenience store, passing a joint back and forth. I was convinced it wouldn’t work because I’d heard from my friends back home in California that it never worked the first time. But, like they were about many things, my friends were wrong. As my cousin and I puffed on the joint he’d rolled, I felt proud that due to sneaking cigarettes I knew how to inhale smoke. My cousin told me not to rush to exhale like with cigarettes, but instead to hold the smoke deep in my lungs. Which I attempted to do to the best of my ability. But it was hotter than cigarette smoke, and made me cough.
A few minutes later, after we’d smoked half the joint, I told my cousin not to be disappointed but his pot was unlikely to have any effect on me. He asked me for the lighter back. I didn’t know why I’d hung onto it. But then, when I handed him back the lighter and he re-lit the joint, the wind kept blowing it out before the joint would catch fire. And for some reason, the faces he was making were suddenly the funniest thing in the world to me. It was like watching a clown have sex in full face make-up. I started laughing. And I couldn’t stop. My cousin asked me if I still thought pot wouldn’t work on me. I couldn’t stop laughing to answer him. Instead I nodded my head, yes, but then realized I meant no, so I shook my head. This also was very funny to me. We hadn’t even finished the joint.
By the time we managed to relight the joint and smoke it down to a roach, I was low-key hallucinating. I’d say that there were only three subsequent times I’ve been as high as I was that first time. And we weren’t even smoking any of that neon green pot I’d seen back home in California. This was Pennsylvania ditch weed. Something that grew wild and was about as well manicured as the Mexican pot that came over the border in oil barrels. Of course, it wasn’t the strength of the weed that made me feel so high. It was the fact this was the first time I ever felt like that. The gap between the euphoria I was feeling and how I felt normally was severe. That’s why I felt so high. I’d never been that lifted before.
My cousin seemed to get a little worried that we shouldn’t hang out where we just smoked, cops might roll by, so he suggested we keep walking. As we stepped out of the bushes behind the parking lot of the convenience store I noticed how finely attuned all my senses were. I could see more clearly. Light fractured into tiny prismatic rainbows where sunlight met my eyelashes. My vision felt crystalline. The world looked brighter, colors appeared richer, and sounds became lush and strangely more vibrant to my young ears. I could hear everything, or so it felt. My sense of touch felt like it had been turned all the way up to maximum sensitivity. I could feel my clothing, everywhere. Basically, everything was suddenly more. But in a calm, delicious way. And I couldn’t stop laughing.
My cousin is decidedly funny. One of the funniest people I know. But he’s not that funny. I was just that fucking high. Stupid high. Goofy high. I was a twelve year-old boy who was out of his head, for the first time. Twelve-year-old boys are not known for a sophisticated level of humor. Which may be why my older cousin wisely wanted to get his now super-stoned, perpetually laughing twelve year-old cousin out of public before we ran into someone he knew. It was a small town after all.
Since we were high, and we were teenage boys, eventually we got hungry. But we also had no money. You know what that means. We walked back home. The munchies demanded it. The walk was awesome for me. I don’t recall my cousin being as impressed with everything as I was. As a veteran stoner, the sound of a dog’s funny-sounding bark didn’t leave him dying of laughter like it did with me. Honestly, I don’t know how he put up with me. I must’ve been the most annoying first time stoner ever.
When we got back to his place, we bounded up the front steps, opened the door, and there was the whole family. Mine and his. And I was high as fuck. That’s when I learned about the paranoia that can occur when you’re high. There's this thunderous crash of me against reality. And then everything was tumbling around me.
I remember thinking, “They all see it. They all know exactly how high I am. My eyes must be so red. My face feels so silly. They can see it. They know I’m high as fuck. I need to stop smiling. No, wait, maybe they don’t see it. I’ll just play it cool. Lemme try to act totally sober.” This is a silly challenge. How does one act totally sober? If you’ve always been sober, you have no idea how to act like it. It’s like a goldfish imagining what water feels like. Mostly, I just felt my mother’s eyes on me, her hot stare burning into mine, as she tried to figure out if her suspicions were correct. They were.
My cousin saved us though. He said we were hungry and we were going to go make something to eat. His mother said we should wait for dinner. But my cousin insisted on eating now. Minutes later, I discovered how amazing food tastes when you’re high. Eating was like low grade sex. Waves of orgasmic euphoria thrilled through me with every bite. We ate everything. We ate cereal. We ate leftover fruit salad from breakfast. We ate peanut butter on anything that would hold it. And all of it was mesmerizingly delicious.
When my mother walked out to the kitchen to check on us, I could feel my high ebbing away. Thank god. I learned a valuable lesson about food and pot. Although I wasn’t entirely sober, I also was no longer about to erupt into a laughing fit like a drunk hyena. Which was good. Despite my sober behavior, my mother was onto us. Her ex-husband had smoked enough that it was easy for her to see how high her son was. But she wasn’t super pissed about it. She wasn’t happy, but she wasn’t yelling or anything. Which she often did. After she left us alone in the kitchen to finish our stoned snacks, most of my high was gone, chased away by fear and food.
But one thing was certain: I knew I loved being high. Feeling so much. Laughing so easily. And I have ever since.