I took the following from a draft of an autobiography I tried writing around 2004 that turned out to be too preachy and crazy to do anything with. There were only a few salvageable passages and this is one of them. The first time I ever smoked marijuana. A magical day.
Around 1995, halfway through high-school, I bought a Phil Collins album but have rarely listened to it over the years. However, one song truly caught my soul: Both Sides of the Story, and the line, “Sleeping with an empty bottle is a sad and an empty hearted man, but what he really needs is a job and a little respect and to get out while he can,” has always stuck with me. I thought Phil Collins had figured out the secret to understanding life and the universe, and somehow condensed it into one sentence: “We always need to hear both sides of the story.” Shortly after buying the album I wrote a story based on a line, which I also called, Both Sides of the Story.
I had a friend at school during this time who was willing to admit to me that he smoked pot. I believe that up to this point, people viewed me as too straight-edge to talk about something like this, but since I’d started writing, I’d gained more self-confidence and loosened up some of my attitudes about things. At first I looked down on him for smoking weed, as I still had this preconception that only fools do drugs and that it wrecks your life and makes you lazy etc, etc. However, I supported legalization, because as brainwashed as I was back then, I still didn’t see the point of imprisoning people when they’re not hurting anybody but themselves.
At one point I told the stories about mailbox bashing and driving around with a laundry basket full of water balloons, soaking pedestrians. I hadn’t done any of this stuff in a long time, but talked highly of it, and how much fun it was. I was quite surprised when he told me those things didn’t sound like fun to him at all. I figured since he smoked pot, he would be antisocial in other ways.
“I just don’t enjoy doing things that hurt other people,” he said, and shrugged it off.
So this statement changed me somehow. At first it baffled me how someone who smoked so much marijuana, which was supposed to make you stupid, could throw out such a simply profound and intelligent statement, and pass it off as simple common sense. It was so simple, yet somehow I had never looked at my actions in quite the way he presented them.
So I rethought my whole outlook on drugs. Perhaps they caused a person to slack off and become stupid… (except this didn’t seem to be the case with my friend as he got better grades than me.) but drugs didn’t make you a bad person.
And with the advice of good old Phil Collins, when my friend dropped me a note in class, asking me to ditch (I saved the note all these years and scanned it for you here) I decided I needed to see both sides of the story.
So we drove to a friends house, and at first we smoked off a joint. I was highly nervous, but my friends were so calm and non-chalant about it that they reassured me that we wouldn’t be caught. I took some hits, but couldn’t keep any down, coughing with the slightest inhale. We tried shotgunning (taking a hit from a person’s exhale, so the smoke is diluted) but nothing worked for me. I coughed everything out, no matter what we attempted.
(Around this same time Bill Clinton was claiming that he’d tried pot but didn’t inhale, then changed his story to say he inhaled but coughed it out. To his credit, he wasn’t lying. He was being totally honest; he was just totally ignorant of how marijuana works. Taking it into your lungs is all you need to get the effect. If you cough it out, it doesn’t have much less of an effect than taking a successful hit. I can totally picture Bill Clinton being totally stoned, probably shoving food into his face, laughing, and carrying on, all the while having no clue that anything’s different.)
So we went back to school . I kept saying, “I’m not feeling anything,” and they kept saying, “we can tell you’re stoned.”
I sat in the back seat, and one of the two said, “Hey, you wanna put Kalin in a bubble?” He put his fist to his hand and turned back toward me and began blowing, like he was blowing up a balloon. They actually had the joke coordinated pretty well, the driver flipping off the radio just as the other tied the imaginary balloon. They then pretended to have a conversation with exaggerated hand movements, moving their lips silently.
I kept saying, “Okay, very funny. I know this isn’t real.” But somehow it felt real, just the same. Then after persisting in the joke for several silent minutes, he turned again and popped the balloon, screaming “BANG!”
We went back to class, and found ourselves doing research in the library. I decided to just slack off and hang out. I kept saying that I didn’t feel anything, and my buddy was getting nervous that someone might hear. I was so confused. I’d expected demons or ecstacy or a profound vision. This strangeness… this differing perspective was not at all what I’d expected… the world looked a bit different somehow… but still I insisted I hadn’t gotten stoned.
My friend was so nervous of getting caught now that we were back at school, as I seemed to be talking about it quite openly. I wanted to stand up and tell everyone in the library, “Hey, marijuana isn’t evil. I thought it was all along and I just discovered it isn’t. It doesn’t rape children and it doesn’t blow up your brain, and it doesn’t bring any sort of irresistible ecstasy. It’s just a thing. That’s all it is. Just a thing.” But unfortunately, I didn’t do that.
Then it was lunchtime, and I ordered my regular meal, and sat with a bunch of friends, mostly girls. I always ate with similar groups of friends at school, but never had tremendously active parts of the conversation. I felt they saw me as background.
But today was different. I was more comfortable with everything. I scarfed down my sandwich, then got up to buy more food. I got up twice more during the lunch period for more food. I kept talking about how much I love to eat, but didn’t mention to anyone that I had just smoked pot. In fact, I didn’t even consider the idea that it was affecting my actions until much later. I started talking, and I don’t remember about what. It could have been profound intellectualism or nonsense, but more than likely it was a combination of the two; I don’t really remember. But I do remember how it seemed like these girls were hanging on every word I said. I remember a couple had been in very bad moods when they sat down but by the end of the lunch period, they were laughing and carrying on in this conversation that for once, was centered around me.
For many months after this experience, I thought I hadn’t gotten high. I thought it had no affect on me. However, I found myself with an increase of self-confidence after the experience. School became easier. My grades improved. My social skills improved. I allowed myself to relax a little.
And of course, I almost immediately began to apply my new found perspective to my writing.