Ten-Thirty at night. It’s not that late. Scratched eyeglasses hang between my black jacket and rests on the red sweatshirt as I take my nightly walk around the block. By the side of me, an aging mutt is anchored to a nylon leash. Oreo is my companion for the evening. He pants heavily with a dry tongue that almost hangs down past that growth on his leg.
I let the slack go looser, then tell him we’re on the last stretch home. “One more street to go before we reach the side gate, boy” – saying it as if he’s human, standing right next to me at a library or a diner. As it is, he’s completely deaf – the second worst thing a canine can lose – and I grin as I picture him, a human with white fur and scattered black patches, sitting on a barstool: an old pervert with too many lumps and who uses a hearing aid as he orders more from the bottom bowl. Nothing to expect except stiff drinks and soiled peacocks. That’s my boy – if you were human we’d make decent partners.
Up until this point, the walk had been peaceful; just working out my latest sociopolitical obsession and jotting it down as best as possible. It’s a favorite pastime for me, walking at this hour. If I don’t do it, I’ll find myself on the brink of a bodily shutdown, this incurred by an acute combination of anxiety and claustrophobia.
For within that other abnormal growth – my bedroom – paranoia paces alongside my footsteps as they both create small circles around the carpet. Cops and the parole agents will be here any second, just wanting to have a word and a shackle. Must make sure that bud pipe is put away!
We, the advocates of freedom and Drug War overhaul, are frequently worse for wear. But as liberationists who imbibe not only on weed and booze (and eventually magic-shrooms), but also on the prospects of Utopia, we jolt with a motivation that can’t be comprehended by any known form of measurement. Added to the absence of fear from ridicule, we can become a powerful and influential energy if channeled the proper way. Lately I’ve been wielding these cosmic realizations as a weapon against my inexhaustible misanthropy.
Indeed, my Chi often is misaligned. Thus, I get an angry thirst for either drink or debate, and then resolve to carry around the smallest soapbox just in case I ever feel the need to yell at the world. I settle for a spiral notebook, an unhealthy amount of alcohol, the infrequent use of green pillows, and an unlimited supply of what Marie Winn called the “Plug-In-Drug” – instead of television, the internet. These vices both attenuate, and exacerbate, my obsessions.
And then there’s the walks and hikes, which, as we cue to the senior mutt once again, is thought to keep hearts beating strong. These are all more peaceful than an actual weapon, no matter how interesting might be the conversations of advanced weaponry and “defense systems” and death tolls attached to high and stately numbers. I’m against those Wars, too.
Tonight, thinking of all things that matter, I see stray cats jumping from darkened rooftops. They give the illusion of very personable shadows, one that might simply step out of that wall right there and ask for my name. Or maybe it’s just the drifting homeless looking for a place to sleep for the night. They do go into those hills. But we’re not getting close to them on this evening.
One of the felines uses a trash can for a step down, then comes around the fence in front of our path. It jumps off the sidewalk and towards a scratch in the concrete, about five feet away from the curb. No cars; not one in motion for five minutes now. I drag the dog over to look at this crater as the cat concludes its trip across the street. I can almost see bones down there. The hole itself is modest enough to be missed by the average delinquent – me – but, upon another look, I can see that it’ll surely cause damage should my car happen to drive over it. Curse it, a damn scar on an otherwise straight and wide road.
All the same, I say to myself, intentionally turning my thought process on the government’s ineptness at fixing up our streets – instead allocating those tax dollars to the man who will promise to take care of things while sniggering to himself as he uses his smartphone to confirm the purchase of that twelve-hundred-dollar leather couch on Amazon. The bastards.
After imagining that iniquitous image, I curse again – less softly now – at the parked cop cars seen over at the 7-Eleven, six or seven officers standing outside their Crown Victoria’s and dining on coffee and donuts. It’s good chances that at least three of them have stopped me on the street and run my name: all those resources that could be used to prevent the next paranoid philosopher from seeing gravesites where there are not. “At least they’re not at the house,” I say to the dog.
We move around the mini-crater. Oreo examines the hole; shoots a quick glance back at me. Under the street light, he looks like he’s trying to stake a claim in it as his newly found burial site. I mouth something loudly and tweak my head. Two glossy eyes stare back up at me. Not tonight mutt, I’m making barbecue sandwiches. I swear: he’s lockstep with me as soon as he’s sensed it. I’m of the belief that my dog is only alive so that tomorrow he can taste delicious – but unhealthy – food one last time, which likely gives him his only sense of temporality and the impending final tick of the stop-watch. There’s worse incentives in, and for, life.
We keep moving parallel with the sidewalk, and soon clear a crosswalk. When I see that all four of his paws are safely on the curb, my attention turns back to the route we are currently touring on. Before my squinted-myopic eyes could focus up ahead, I witness a white blur sticking out from the opposite side of the street. It’s an automobile, parked at the next crosswalk. Reaching for my glasses, the vehicle begins creeping forward – ever so slowly – and eventually makes a turn onto my street, coming right for me and the mutt.
It was a sleek white, unblemished Ford Crown Victoria with a large antenna on the front of the hood. And dark windows. From my distance, I could see no blue or red lights on top, no little badges painted on the doors, no such indication of any kind, and so I figured that it was just some disgruntled yuppie who, with a flask far below the dash, simply had to survey the darkened streets and enjoy the stream of green signals while searching for nothing except real cop cars going in the opposite direction. Can’t be too mad at ‘em, as that is my other favorite pastime.
As the car comes towards us, I tried to get a gander inside this thing, if only to see who shared in my hobbies. It got closer, seemingly speeding up as it did this. And then it was upon my side. I look closely – but I can see no driver! There’s no discernible shape of any kind, person or seat. I make a mental note to give up playing Ghosts ‘N Goblins on my NES. Maybe tonight the demons snuck through Hell’s back window, running off with some sacred item or damsel that must now be rescued by I, the inebriated notetaker, and his trusty but bow-legged, sense-deprived, fifteen-year-old dog. They should hope it didn’t fall down on us.
Or: perhaps I should try to recall how very darkly tinted those car windows were. Very dark. No need, then, for me to hoist this animal up onto my shoulders and attempt to jump over that fence. Still, that slight stirring in my chest; the adrenaline bullets loaded into their chambers and waiting to be fired throughout my body. It’s the kind of reaction that I get too often but which allows me to ignore the annually-worsening pain in my knees. Dare I say that some of that damage might very well have been caused by my overwrought hardwiring.
The Crown White kept going down the street. I’m turning my head to keep track of where it’s wheels come to rest. It does not become victimized by the mini-grave I had just investigated, floating over it like a glossy phantasm with dark fumes you could choke on, and eventually brakes at the stop sign just beyond. The car stays for a good ten seconds there.
And then: Without a sound, perceivably motionless, the brakes are abandoned, and the car slides into the intersection. There, it performs a very quick U-turn, soon pointing back up our direction.
“Come-on,” I say to the mutt, dragging him a little harder. Oreo could not sprint a half-mile, but we do a quick 50-foot jog ahead, him managing to trot along. Maybe the cadencing car engine had put sound back into his worn-out ears, thus firing off dusty adrenaline shells and forcing his heart to pump a bit harder.
We stop. Some hundred feet behind us, the unsmudged machine stops too. It’s lights go out, and whoever sits in there stays. Before turning the corner and out of sight, I stare at the vehicle for a whole three seconds. Behind the shapeless windows, I could see a small flash, like a lighter or flashlight. We finish the lap around the block and go home.
Mom is asleep. I lock both bolts. There’s a baseball bat in my room just in case. Guns, alas, are forbidden in this household. BBQ sandwiches are being nuked-up as I reflect: They never opened the fucking door! There must be a valid reason for this. They must’ve known somebody in that house, even though they didn’t get out of the car. As I slug cheap beer, I recall a single point of correlation between this incident and another that took place a few weeks ago.
At my gym! The lady and her husband! Although gymnasiums wouldn’t normally seem like a place to meet fellow tokers, I’ve had at least a dozen good conversations about the matters of cannabis criminalization and all sidebars that concern the larger Drug War. These happen most often in the Jacuzzi at one of the 24 Hour Fitness clubs in my valley.
The conversation that other night was the most apprehensive I’ve had thus far: a clear and credible admittance of CIA agents working, or at least living, in the city that I have sadly wound up in. This happened during a strange talk amongst three total strangers enjoying a Jacuzzi that was both underheated and overly-chlorinated.
I got to the gym late, as I like to do. Every gym is different, but the “wet area” here is brightly lit. The water aerobics class soon finished, and when it was empty I jumped in and took a couple of laps. I’m panting after this short workout. Coughing, too. I reach for the side of the pool while trying not to pass out from exhaustion. Cannabis smoking cannot be helping my swim routine.
Then, an oddly delivered question to the aerobics instructor, from me, turned into a topical discussion about the gym’s cleaning habits, eventually leading to a conversation with another gentleman who was roughly my age, and who came off as a bit erratic. Our focus was on the prospective passing of Proposition 19, a measure that would legalize cannabis for recreational usage.
“I completely agree,” says this guy Jake regarding the ill effects of prohibition. “It’s a waste of resources.” Agreeably and assuredly I add, “Taxation of cannabis could finally fix the fucking streets!” Yes! And no more sending people to prison for having a plant, we agreed again. And then he went on about his stint in the military.
“We fought for the freedom to smoke pot,” he says plainly. “Yes, maybe you did,” I said. His eyes narrowed. “And maybe there was something about protecting opium crops in Afghanistan,” I had posited. “That I know you’re not responsible for, but does somewhat undermine the moral concern.” Having not seen that renegade report filed by Geraldo, my friend couldn’t make heads or tails of it.
“Police State…They’re gonna have us in camps soon!” I rattled on, not hearing him or his dreams of finding good paying work. A few minutes later a woman came into the pool. I first noticed her tan legs as they went down the entrance steps that me and my new friend were occupying. She floated in and smiled at us both before beginning a long and visibly relieving stretch.
Just immaculate – maybe except for the faint lines that were only barely noticeable on her face, evidence of multiple wrinkle-inducing childbirths. If I told you she also said she was a “grandma” of five, I’d probably have to bring a birth certificate. Looking no older than 40, one had to wonder – plastic surgery, or just really taking good care of herself?
She was friendly and talkative – a rarity for a woman that good looking – and mentioned her damaged sciatic nerve. “It’s in your back” – looking at me like an idiot for not being an expert in physiology. Me and Jake continued our political matter. “It’s only a matter of time before the feds invade the Pyrite State,” I said. The woman began making sharp and expressive looks at me. “What do you think, dear?” I ask her. “Are we gonna do it with this measure? Should we?”
“Should they legalize marijuana in the State of California?” she asked rhetorically, starting to think on it. “Absolutely,” I finalize. She’s intelligent, telling me her thoughts about regulation and the market. “What will they put in it? And how do we know?” she asked. I responded that the same could be said for ninety percent of our diets.
“The real problem,” she said, “is that doctors are just prescribing pot for anything now.” She then added: “Although I don’t smoke, I’d have to look at all the circumstances.”
Turns out our new friend was much more hostile to cannabis than she would have first led on, as I was starting to get her to admit. “There are so many sides to the issue,” she said. “Try to picture yourself as a father of a child whose doctor says ‘just smoke pot.’ My doctor even asked me if I’d like to try it.”
“Seems like a good doctor,” I replied.
“Why are you so passionate about this particular issue?” she asked me.
“The Drug War has caused a lot of harm in society.”
“For one thing, smoking a joint and killing somebody can’t be compared.”
“Obviously,” she says as she makes herself more comfortable on the Jacuzzi jets.
“Ok,” I say, “You say that…but they’re often punished the same.”
“Pot smokers do not get lengthy sentences.”
“Probably not, but the walls look the same for everyone, even for someone who’s comforted in knowing that his neighbor has to stare at them for longer than he does.”
The lady tweaked her head and looked away. My veteran friend brought up the underground markets that always spring up whenever something is prohibited. “Yes, and what do we do about them?” I asked. “No reason to quit fighting,” she replied.
I then repeated my claim that elements of the U.S. government have – has? – been involved in drug trafficking, which presents a level of hypocrisy not seen since Thomas Jefferson declared that “All Men Are Created Equal” shortly before attending to his black slaves.
The woman then casually blurted out that her husband works for the CIA. “He’s never told me anything like that.” She grinned and looked up at the ceiling while stretching her legs out. I stared blankly back at her, trying to hide the antenna that was now being extended from my forehead.
What’s this? CIA! In my city!? I suddenly felt the need to excuse myself from this conversation. “Well,” I said as I stood and walked up the steps, “It’s that time.” “Have a good one.” “You too,” the woman replied. “Good luck in your activism.” I said thanks.
The shower was quick. I decided not to drink the semi-cold beer I had brought with me, as I occasionally do while raising the gym’s water bill. I toweled off and dressed. As I walked out of the gym, I glanced into the Jacuzzi that can be seen through a pair of glass walls. Both the woman and my military friend were gone. I hurried off past the front desk and out of the place.
A three-story parking structure sits behind the gym and next to the AMC movie theater. I usually park on the second floor, taking the single flight of steps down to the ground level.
Making my way under the parking structure, I look up to the second floor. It was sticking out above the three-foot wall. I know it. White metal. I climbed the stairs. My Nissan Pathfinder was sitting there obediently. A few spaces away and there it was. Positive: it had to have been the same one. It was a Crown Victoria, with those dark windows that contrasted menacingly against the spotless white paint. No mistaking it. I drove past this gleamingly mercurial machine, not thinking anything more of the woman or her possible ownership. Seems like they might have wanted to think a bit more about me.