Grass, The Exponent by Harry Bailey
Harry Bailey is a 72-year old Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the University of California at Berkeley, where he found the three lifelong loves of his life: the woman he married, the English language, and cannabis. In this rollicking advisory on peculiar methods of executive success, we learn not only do’s and don’ts of handling monsters in the attic and downhill skiing, but we also spend a lubricated moment with Mr. Whiff, recently recovered weedalholic.
What an opportunity!
Or so I thought when invited to participate in this collection of testimonials from marijuana users. But the longer I thought about my half-century of exposure to the beloved weed, the less certain I am of what must be said and what is mere embellishment. So I’ll try to summarize my own introduction to grass and my long friendship with it, keeping generalizations to a minimum, because the unique quality of grass is that it affects each individual differently. You, on grass, are You.
I’m a writer by profession, not a famous one, but a very successful one in terms of earnings and personal satisfaction. I’ve had three novels published in hardcover, two of them made into bad movies, all of them gone into paperback and foreign editions. For twenty-five years I worked as a screenwriter as well, with over a hundred credits in TV prime time and a couple of movie screenplays that got produced, one of them terrible, the other a classic that you’ve undoubtedly seen and can still see regularly on the cable movie channels. My wife and I have been married for 47 years and have raised three children into healthy adulthood. Grass didn’t hurt my career.
I began smoking pot in late 1949 while a senior in English at U.C. Berkeley. A fellow English major had a brother who was a jazz musician in San Francisco, our connection to the only world in which pot was widely available in that era. My first experience was a washout, busy looking for weird symptoms and not finding any, until a chance remark (not very funny in a normal state) triggered the worlds of connotative meaning hidden in a simple sentence and we collapsed in helpless laughter, a laugh kick that fed on itself for many minutes and left us feeling totally relaxed and happy.
After that we began to smoke regularly, once or twice a week, learning to use the grass to open our minds to the beauties of various arts. Usually we listened to music of the kind we already liked: Beethoven and Brahms, symphonies and concertos. We were pilgrims discovering a new continent; the music yielded up incredible rewards in beauty and intensity, becoming not merely sounds but the very substance of our consciousness, the medium in which we existed. Today I still turn on, put on the stereo earphones and enter a new universe, that of Bach or Mozart, my tastes having evolved with age and listening.
Sometimes when high we would read from various masterworks being studied in our English courses. Shakespeare is best for this, his work deep and dense enough to bear full exploration.
My Shakespeare prof was a hideous old bastard who would have turned me against The Bard for life, had I not read him while stoned. Grass and Macbeth made me a lifetime reader. Another masterwork I never understood until I read it while high is the Sermon on the Mount. I’m a deist, but not a church member.
Painting is another art difficult to apprehend for those without years of study and practice, and for me, grass works its miracle here as well. I had taken some art appreciation courses and visited many museums, but I was never truly enraptured by a painting until I started smoking as an essential prelude to entering a museum or gallery. My epiphany took place before the great Dali original “The Last Supper” in the National Gallery in Washington, D.C. I recommend the experience; it made a true art-lover of me. When my kids were in grades three to seven I used to wait for the school bus to bring them home, holding the latest issue of a course from the NY Metropolitan Museum with a dozen great prints in each issue. High, my head was as clear and receptive as theirs, and we’d spend one or two hours just LOOKING at those great paintings, and I’d get to see with their eyes.
So, perhaps it’s time to ask, does grass put anything extra into music, literature, painting, nature, or whatever? Of course not, but it allows you (lures you, enables you) to open your mind and senses to appreciate what is there for the expert, the practitioner. Grass is not for everyone, not for every occasion, not a mood elevator, not an escape. It is an exponential factor. It intensifies what you bring to it. Here, from personal experience, are a few guidelines.
Great times to turn on:
1. Just before the performance in the Vienna Opera House of a great symphony orchestra. Sound plus ambiance.
2. Just before entering the Dali Museum in Figueres, Spain, a gift from the master to his home town. Art, architecture, magic.
3. Before watching a lightning storm move over the Grand Canyon. Natures grandeur anywhere, worth a look through new eyes.
4. Before reading anything complex, subtle, nuanced – anything capable of being read s-l-o w-l-y with greater enjoyment. Proust, for example.
5. Half an hour before going to bed with one you love.
6. Halfway up the ski lift, if you can really ski. If you can’t, you won’t improve, but you’ll really understand terror.
Great times NOT to turn on:
1. Before the drive from Malibu across the Los Angeles freeway system to Pasadena. Or any drive in heavy traffic. You can do it with no loss of skill, but you’ll hate it. Bringdown!
2. Whenever there are people, places, or events you dislike looming in your immediate future. Bad gets worse.
3. Whenever you are feeling sad, depressed, angry or neurotic. Grass lights up the interior of your head, so if you have any monsters hiding in the dark corners, forget it.
4. Before hard, physical, boring work. Your rapid flow of thoughts may distract you, but an 8-hour shift lasts forever.
Over my five decades of smoking (No tobacco, please!) I’ve found that non-smokers usually ask the same questions, whether they’re planning to try it or not. So here are the time-tested replies.
Easy answers to hard questions:
1. What does grass do to you when you smoke it?
It does nothing to you physically, so the first few times you may miss the whole experience, being so busy taking your pulse and waiting to be seized and borne aloft. This is an I-feel-normal kick. Plan some activity you like, instead.
2. Is it habit-forming?
Physically, not at all. Psychologically, it’s like any other pleasurable activity, you tend to repeat it. I’ve smoked it almost daily when it was plentiful, or I’ve gone without it for months at a time whenever it was not easily available. If I quit for a while (as I’ve done) my body does not signal any difference.
3. What about the effect on your health?
At age 72 I’m a vigorous, active, strong male animal, blood pressure 120 over 70, good appetite, great digestion, normal weight, restful sleep. Grass didn’t make me healthy, but it doesn’t interfere with my healthful country lifestyle. I play tennis and golf, ski, cut wood, mow lawn, garden — enjoy all the activities I did at 30. No Viagra necessary.
4. How does it compare with alcohol, the legal drug?
So glad you asked. In answer, let me offer a TV playlet that I wrote during my years in showbiz, for a video producer friend on a comedy show. Somehow, it never got produced.
TV INTERVIEW – THE REFORMED GRASSOHOLIC
FADE IN ON LOGO THE DIRTY LITTLE SECRET SHOW – THEME MUSIC UP INTERIOR STUDIO CLOSE SHOT ON SHOW HOST – THEME MUSIC FADES
Max: Hello, America! I’m Max Probe, your lovable hard-hitting host on The Dirty Little Secret Show, dedicated to proving that everyone has something rotten to hide. Tonight’s show is a blockbuster, a television first! Now to my co-host …
CUT TO FULL FIGURE SHOT OF DONNA – CAMERA MOVES IN SLOWLY Donna: Thank you, Max. Hi there, America. As I’m sure you all know, I’m Donna Hue, famous interviewess. Tonight we turn the spotlight on a real crisis for our nation, the use of marijuana by otherwise grownup and responsible citizens, even high ranking corporate executives. oooooohhh, I get chills just thinking about it.
TWO SHOT – MAX AND DONNA
Max: That’s right, folks, tonight’s dirty secret is Mary-jane, as hopelessly hooked hay-blazers call it. With us here tonight is Mr. James Whiff, a business executive and top securities analyst, a man who narrowly escaped destruction by the demon weed. Please welcome this brave man!
CAMERA ANGLES TO THREE SHOT – MAX, DONNA & WHIFF – APPLAUSE
Max: I hope it’s not too embarrassing to tackle the subject head-on, so to speak — but we want to know how you beat the nasty habit that’s becoming so prevalent in our culture. When did you first realize you were a grassaholic?
Whiff: I never did. A friend had to tell me.
Donna: That’s devotion. Had you known this friend a long time?
Whiff: Yeah, it was Louie from the liquor store. I used to see him all the time, we were really tight, y’know? Then about six months ago he came to the apartment to see if I’d died.
Max: Very touching. Did he recognize your problem at once?
Whiff: Probably. I had a joint in my hand, holding my breath.
Donna: So he hit you with the truth. Did that wake you up?
Whiff: Naw, it cracked me up. I laughed so hard I got pissed off and left. But he sent all the guys from the Slob’s Nest to see me. That’s the bar I used to hang out in before I got onto weed. When I realized I hadn’t even missed the guys, I got scared. I knew it was time to re-examine my values, dope-wise.
Donna: Just how severe was your pot habit at that time, Jim?
Whiff: I was doing a lid a week. Plus stray hits from friends.
Max: Let’s get specific, Jim. ‘Were you hooked on Colombian?
Whiff: Naw, I was on Colombian for a while after I got off Panama Red, which was after I got off Jamaican Brown. When the roof fell in on me I was down to plain old Kansas Green.
Donna: That sounds like the pothead equivalent of White Port.
Whiff: Well, it does the job, skull-blowing-wise. Actually, I started buying Kansas because I got worried about our balance of payments.
Max: (encouraging smile) Even in the depths of your degradation, you were still a loyal American, right?
Whiff: I tried to be. But I wasn’t doing my part. I realized that when Louie and the guys began asking questions about my life style.
Donna: Could you give us an example of some of the unpatriotic vices you had fallen into?
Whiff: Well, my car, for one thing. It got cobwebs all inside. I just couldn’t make the driving scene, y’know? I mean, the vibes were so hostile in traffic, it brought me down. I found myself walking to the office, left the car in the garage.
Donna: You mean you were turning on in the morning?
Whiff: Oh yeah. One morning I had half a roach left over from the night before, so on a whim I lit it up. Before that, I never ate breakfast, too nervous about the day. Stoned, I was suddenly into the bacon-and-eggs scene. Overnight habit.
Max: That’s disgusting, Jim – but we understand. Having to eat a full meal every morning must have ruined your work schedule.
Whiff: Actually, I ate breakfast in the time I saved by walking to work.
Donna: Let’s get into the really embarrassing problems brought on by being a grassaholic. How did your wife stand it, Jim?
Whiff: It was tough on her. I mean, we had it sort of worked out over the years, she was adjusted to me being a certain kind of guy — then as I got heavy into weed, I stopped chasing pussy.
Max: Good lord, how did that happen? Did dope kill your desire?
Whiff: Naw, it was just that one morning after the bacon-and-eggs I got to memory tripping. Got into a replay of our honeymoon. when I happened to look at her doing the dishes, she wasn’t all that bad. Next thing you know we’re balling every morning. Sort of cut down on my urge to go sniffing for nooky on the lunch break.
Max: But what about after work? Cocktail hour is beaver city.
Whiff: Yeah, but I’d be doing a jay on the walk home and forget to go into the bars. And the wife was terrific about hopping in the sack if I came home horny. Even suggested it sometimes.
Donna: She must be a fantastic woman.
Whiff: She got better, with practice. So I found myself giving up the strange. To show you how bad I was into grassaholism, I didn’t even miss it.
Max: What with all the gluttony and orgies every morning, I presume your work really suffered.
Whiff: Well, I was usually late, but luckily I wasn’t punching a time clock. Thing is, I’d always do up another stick on the walk to the office, then I’d get heavy into my job. I wore out two desktop computers in the year I was really a hopeless case. Cranked out so many reports they tried to make me a vice president. But I couldn’t dig it.
Donna: (incredulous) You don’t mean you refused a promotion!
Whiff: Yeah, my ambition was shot. I just couldn’t see having to move my stash to a bigger office. I had false bottoms in all my desk drawers and the desk was bolted to the floor.
Max: I suppose your mind was so clouded with dope that you never thought of just exchanging the desk drawers.
Whiff: I thought of it. But the VPs all had Chippendale, and I had Regency. It would have been a hassle. So we settled on just a raise, without the promotion.
Donna: Your case history shows that you have two children, Jim. How did they respond to your being a hopeless dope fiend?
Whiff: They were cool about it. They’d always leave their homework and play with me when I got hung up with one of their toys. I used to waste a lot of their time, but they never complained.
Donna: Tell us, did they succeed in acting as though it were normal for a grown man to be doing things like that?
Whiff: Yeah, they never let on. They were wonderful. There was a period when I was heavy into Tinkertoys, and they helped me build some stuff you wouldn’t believe. Then there was the giggles — we used to giggle a lot, get so busted up we’d fall down on the floor and roll around.
Max: Uh, please, Jim — the network does have to maintain certain standards, so we’d better not dwell on that sort of thing. I think it’s been made clear that you were scraping the bottom. What turned things around for you?
Whiff: It was my friends that did it. I was too far gone to listen when they tried to talk to me. So for my own good they knocked me down, held me, and poured a fifth of scotch down my throat. While I could still talk they made me tell ’em every spot I had any weed stashed, and they ran it all down the dispose-all. They sent out for six cases of beer from the Flying Lush and then took turns sitting up with me for the next week.
Donna: That’s a heart-warming story, Jim. What about your wife and kids during that difficult period?
Whiff: Well, they couldn’t stand to see what I was going through, so the fellas took up a collection and bought ’em tickets to go stay with her parents in Maine. Still there, I guess.
Max: Did you have any relapses, any tendency to go back to the killer weed?
Whiff: No, I’m proud to say I’ve been drunk every day since then. Matter of fact, I’m half tanked right now.
Max: So is most of our audience, Jim, it’s the American way. I have to tell you, we’re all mighty proud of you. Have you gotten back into the mainstream of life now?
Whiff: You bet. I knocked up two secretaries in the last six months.
Donna: What about your car? Still got those nasty cobwebs?
Whiff: Nope. They cleaned those out when they put on the new front fenders and grill. Some idiot in a crosswalk, y’know.
Max: I bet you’re putting a lot more of your money to work now, boosting our national economy, right?
Whiff: Yeah, I’m popular with every branch of business. My auto insurance has tripled. I’m seeing my doctor frequently, again. With the divorce, the paternity suits, and the accident claims, the law firm that represents me has just voted me Client of the Year.
Donna: Bully for you, Jim. Have you let your friends know how you feel about what they did for you?
Whiff: Damn right. I had liquor store Louie move into my wife’s room after she served me with the divorce papers. As for the fellas — well, my bar tab at the Slob’s Nest topped two hundred bucks last week. No buddy of mine ever drives home sober.
Max: Yours is truly an inspirational story, Jim. Do you have any words of wisdom to pass along, to help the families of other grassaholics?
Whiff: One thing you gotta understand, to deal with the problem. Grassaholism is not a disease. It’s a goddam crime!
Donna: That’s laying it on the line. Do you see any use in fooling around with psychiatry or counseling or that kind of crap?
Whiff: Hell, no. If a guy’s drinking buddies can’t straighten him out, what he needs is a good hard bust.
Max: I’ll go along with that. I know a guy in Texas who’s doing twenty years for bringing half an ounce across the border. It cured him. He hasn’t had a toke since they threw him in solitary, and he’s doing fine without it.
Whiff: Way I see it, I’m paying taxes to support guys to catch these criminals, more taxes to prosecute ’em, then more taxes for a public defender, then more taxes for prison guards to watch ’em eat the food I pay for — I want some action for all that goddam money. I don’t want all my employees to be out of work – let’s bust everybody!
Donna: What you’re saying, Jim — we should all support our government in its War On Drugs. Who cares if it costs billions to stamp out reefer madness!
Whiff: (Pulling out a pocket flask) I’ll drink to that, honey. (takes a big slug) Say, I could go for a broad like you, I’ve always had a weakness for low-slung tits. (offering flask) Here, have a belt.
Donna: Uh, perhaps later, Jim. You were saying before the show that you had a great idea to keep marijuana out of our schools.
Whiff: Right! Sell beer in the cafeteria. (puts his hand on Donna’s leg) Whadda ya say we have lunch after the show, beautiful?
Donna: Thank you very much, but it’s almost midnight.
Whiff: Aw shit, that’s right. Well, how about a little party in my car? I’ve got a case in the back seat.
Max: (Raising his voice irritably) If you don’t mind, Jim, we have just a moment left to cover some important points —
Whiff: (Shoves the flask at him) Hey, have a slug and loosen up, tight-ass. I think I got a live one here.
Max: (Frantically signalling the off scene director) Well, folks, that about wraps it up for tonight.
CAMERA DOLLIES IN TO A TIGHT CLOSEUP OF MAX struggling to thrust the flask aside.
Donna: (off scene) Stop that, Jim!
Max: Thank you America for tuning in to this segment of The Dirty Little Secret show, televisions answer to our President’s call for more educational programming. Now stay glued to your screen for ten minutes of your favorite commercials from our greatest breweries and wineries.
THEME MUSIC UP FULL AS WE SLOWLY FADE OUT.
Though this little skit was written many years ago, before I escaped from the entertainment industry, the opinions herein expressed are still mine. I offer the script royalty-free to any acting group capable of reaching a wider audience. It’s hard to conduct a public debate on our marijuana laws when one side has already been declared the enemy, subject to arrest and imprisonment for acting on their views.
If I were living alone, I might have the courage to sign my real name to this declaration of my beliefs, for it is the truth as I know it. But I have a dear wife (a non-smoker by choice) and grown children living nearby in what is, by any standard, a conservative community. I will not put any heat on the people I love, so Chaucer will provide me a pen name.