At no point during my existence on this planet have I ever forged a meaningful relationship with a person I’ve met while smoking cannabis. There is nothing about that experience that makes you want to suddenly share all of yourself with a total stranger. The best case scenario is that you’ve already allowed yourselves to build the bridge of friendship before puffing down on an old puff-stick, or whatever the actual modern day slang for it is. That shouldn’t be construed as an endorsement to engage in illicit activities. Instead, consider it a warning to make the most of breaking an unnecessary law. Rather than waste all that time feigning interest through heightening paranoia, you could be at home eating pizza, watching cartoons, and laughing yourself into a perceived (or genuine) cardiac arrest.
Some time back, an old friend of mine invited me to a show he was in that merged music with visual arts. Wanting a better idea of what he had been working on, I was pleased to say that I would be in attendance. The only catch was that he wanted me to act as a videographer for the event. This was fine because it meant I had the balcony seat nearest to the stage all to myself for the majority of the show. The lights dimmed and I settled in. It was a collaborative success as the sights and sounds worked well together. One medium encouraged the other and the result was an ever-shifting visual and auditory landscape of mood. It was the sort of thing I would have definitely sought out on my own.
Once the concert had concluded, I was invited back stage. It was a patchy network of visual artists, musicians, and random people vaguely affiliated with the musicians. It is a well-known fact that anyone approaching any level of notoriety is required by law to have an entourage. Once I am infamous and society deems it unseemly for me to go anywhere alone I fully intend to have a posse of attractive women in sunglasses and strange men in lipstick. However, on this occasion, I was alone and without the additional credibility brought on by having a midget with an ocelot standing next to you. So I had very little to say to everyone beyond the expected, and earned, round of compliments. But my friend, a performer, introduced me to a few of the more involved parties.
One of the people was a comic artist/legend. My friend introduced me and we exchanged two words with absolutely no eye contact. One of my worst personality traits is not getting overly excited about anything but, fortunately, it served me well enough in this situation. This was a person who had created visual spaces I obsessed over as a child and comics that I idolized as a teenager. But I somehow managed not to take it cripplingly personal when I was presented to him and he just said, “Alright then,” and walked away while frowning. May he be cast into a river of boiling hot Dr. Pepper.
I wandered out the rear exit, had a cigarette, and flirted with a tall groupie before she left with the musicians and their pack of social parasites. Eventually I returned inside and said very little to the other artists and stage hands. They were busy talking shop and gossiping about people that I knew nothing about. I couldn’t contribute much more than the occasional joke and doing so ran the risk of putting down a member of their inner circle. It’s all well and good for them to call each other whores and idiots, but an outsider doesn’t want jump in on that bandwagon. That’s no way to make a new friend, so I spent the majority of my time silent.
After a few more minutes, the theater manager showed up and they all decided to have a quick meeting. I was invited along and we walked as a group of seven through the underbelly of the building. Pipes and ducts occupied much of the space and we were required to squeeze around many narrow corners. Eventually we found ourselves at the entrance of a giant metal box. The door looked like it belonged on a submarine or missile silo and creaked when it moved. We were ushered in by a bespectacled man-boy and made our way through single file.
“It’s the HVAC system for the theater.” The building manager said.
The space was larger than most rooms in my apartment. Looking up yielded an open expanse of blackness and the only light source vanished when the door was shut. A few people had flashlights and a few others turned on cell phones to help illuminate the room. The meeting itself consisted of three joints and several small pipes’ worth of medicinal marijuana.
“Pretty cool place to smoke.” Someone claimed.
It was not a pretty cool place to smoke. The perpetual breeze in the room made the use of lighters a logistical nightmare. There is also nothing aesthetically pleasing about getting stoned in a giant windowless box in the bowels of Manhattan with nothing but echoes and endless darkness overhead. In all actuality it seemed hand crafted to ensure a weird ominous feeling within all that occupied it. This feeling was further heightened after everyone had their fill of smoke and we all stood there in silence. If you’ve never smoked before, it’s sort of like running your computer in safe mode. There is a brief mental reboot before you begin running nonstop diagnostics on everything. I’ve discussed this phenomenon with my friend Thom in the past and he claims that if you’re not doing exactly what you want, you’ll become keenly aware of it after a few minutes of being stoned.
So, once conversation started back up, I began a mental countdown of how long it would be until I could leave. But I no longer had any concept of time, so waiting became its own unique challenge. For some reason, I couldn’t figure out a very smooth way to exit the situation either. My best plan involved yelling goodbye, exiting the room, and running through the underground network of pipes and tunnels until I found myself back outdoors. However, executing this would leave my friend with some explaining to do. He had mentally abandoned me and was standing near the man I had identified as the leader of this group of friends. Primates do the same thing to gain standing within social circles. As an outsider, I was just barely being tolerated and he had smartly distanced himself from me. I imagined telling one bad joke and having them all screeching and pounding their chests while I was beaten to death in a primal rage. The thought made me snicker and someone asked me why I was laughing.
“I can’t tell you because you’ll think I’m crazy.” I said.
They didn’t press it and I tried to avoid thinking more than absolutely necessary. Instead I attempted to try interacting with the group. This went exceptionally poorly. But, by just looking and nodding at whoever was speaking, I assumed that I must have been doing a stellar job. Eventually, I was asked a question and realized I hadn’t actually been listening to anything anybody had been saying. My plan was only to appear invested in the conversation and that plan had worked before it backfired horribly. I had focused so intensely on creating the illusion of listening that the actual discussion was never processed by my brain. How was I going to salvage this? I couldn’t say that I didn’t hear what he said because I had spent the entire conversation looking extremely engaged. But I was also starting to think that it had probably been a long time since I had been asked the initial question and that I had better answer soon. There was a deep breath before I gave my answer.
“I’m not… even sure I care.” I exhaled.
My intention was not to be rude. It was the truth and possibly the only right answer I could have given that would effectively cover any question posed. I had no idea what this person had said but I wasn’t really sure any of it mattered to me. I was a stranger that had tagged along and didn’t really want to participate in any social posturing. Perhaps this encouraged my uncouth behavior and ensured their poor opinion of me. I was just sort of there. Not particularly friendly, not inexorably cruel, basically inconsequential. It would have been similar to if someone had dragged in a large fern into the HVAC system and put glasses on it. It wasn’t the drug’s fault though. The deepest part of me desperately wanted to be antisocial well before the first lighter was set ablaze. Drugs are not an excuse to act like an asshole. But I might have been able to fake it if my tissues had been saturated with ethanol or my brain had been processing MDMA.*
Eventually we all stumbled out of the box and made our way back up behind the stage. As everyone made plans to visit a nearby bar, I excused myself and walked home. As I strolled, I tried to recall the faces I felt so indifferent toward and tried to piece together why. Neighborhoods changed and the Village’s quiet charm dissolved as I neared Astor Place’s menagerie of drunken college students and I gradually forgot all about them. Eventually, I encountered a dog wearing a vest and decided to tail it for a few blocks while smiling contently to myself. There are a lot of right ways to live life and even more wrong ones but you have to sort that out for yourself. But, in the moments when you are truly uncertain, attempt to live in the moment. And, whether you’re following a bunch of artists into a windowless box or a vested Labrador into a public park, know when it’s time to leave.
*”Winners don’t use drugs.” –William S. Sessions, Director, FBI