S.M. Park’s continuing column Risen Apes about being a 70-year-old boomer. In “Sweet Jane,” Park shares insights into growing marijuana and the potency of pot brownies.
In mid-October I helped my friend Barney harvest his marijuana crop. They were lush, twelve-foot beauties that did surprisingly well for plants grown this far north. I bought the seeds for him on the Internet (Vanilla Kush and Peyote Cookie) and was happy to help with the harvest because—other than cartooning tips (and no one asks me for those)—it’s pretty much all I’m good for. Barney’s building a cabin in the woods, for instance, but I’ve little to offer in that regard. I barely know a nut from a bolt and, more importantly, don’t really care: the house-lust exhibited by so many of my countrymen makes me cringe.
Which is why I was heartened recently when my cousin (after thirty years of research) unearthed the origins of my great-grandfather, the shipping magnate William Matson. He wrote a gripping, fifty-page thesis about it (Matson’s ancestry was nothing but myths and conjecture to that point) and I discovered his parents were poor sharecroppers who lived in caves. (They called them “holes cut in hillsides” and dressed them with shabby facades like a movie set, but inside was a cave.)
That’s my idea of kinfolk. In the meanwhile I devoted most of my adult life to crops of my own, so I’m gratified when friends ask for help or advice with their plants. I’ve a mountain of knowledge and experience that are no good to me otherwise, which was evident as I manicured Barney’s buds. I used the same technique I always have—foregoing scissors for my right thumb and forefinger, and stripping the plants while they were still in the ground (as opposed to cutting and hanging them first)—but not once did I miss my own growing days. When I’ve exhausted a passion, it’s over … the urge does not surface again.
The irony is I was in it for the highs and, now that I’ve quit the business, those are better than ever. The big grow botanists have even generated plants with thirty percent THC, which I would have deemed impossible a few years ago.
But then I never believed pot would be legal in my lifetime either. To think I scoured the planet for decades, searching for a variety that’d get me just a little more stoned, much less the time I spent chasing seeds on the Internet. The predecessor to today’s overseas brokers was an auction site called C-Bay. It featured individual growers like myself (most of them Canadian) who offered seeds for sale. Over the years I discovered most of them (consciously or otherwise) lied about everything from the potential size, smell and potency of their product to its relative flowering time.
Yet I was going through a box of papers yesterday and discovered a raft of C-Bay purchasing orders. Dozens and dozens of them, representing countless seed varieties. Part of it was being hooked on the timed auction process itself, vying with other growers from around the world to purchase, say, ten Blowfish or Big Frosty seeds, but mostly it was sheer desperation, the chance that this or that grower really had produced a superior hybrid.
Assuming I could still separate one high from another, anyway: I raised over five hundred varieties between 1981 and 2013, so somewhere in there they began blurring together. The only thing that saved me from my C-Bay addiction, in fact, was the Canadians (under pressure from the DEA) shutting down the site. I’m sure they seized my mailing address in the process but that didn’t concern me. You could still get mailboxes without I.D. in those days, and not only had I rented one under the nom de plume “James Gervais” for years, but back in ’98, when I purchased ten seed packets in Amsterdam and mailed them to the States (concealed in a larger package), I found a note in the box later:
Nice try, Gervais! We’ve confiscated your illegal contraband.
I taped it to my studio wall … hopefully it was a rogue agent who grew them out for himself. And I talk about getting higher with bud but let’s face it: I haven’t been truly ripped from smoking since the Maui Wowie and Thai Stick varieties of the Seventies. Even today’s thirty percent stuff isn’t that good … I’ve gotta consume edibles for that.
Those have come a long way, too, particularly in terms of taste and texture, though few seem as mind-bending as my Scud Bud brownies were. You can go on YouTube now and watch videos on baking and caramelizing bud, but my method was both more direct and, I suppose, wasteful. I’d simply take twelve to fourteen grams of small bud (not “shake”), put them in a pan with a cube of unsalted butter, simmer for twenty minutes, then strain the resulting oil into a bowl of Betty Crocker Brownie Mix. (I never found a product that worked as well and, inasmuch as I’m no whiz in the kitchen, I was hardly constructing mixes from scratch.)
You can go on YouTube now and watch videos on baking and caramelizing bud, but my method was both more direct and, I suppose, wasteful.
How loaded you became afterwards depended on how much you ate and the potency of the varieties involved. I know the brownies’ effects were a source of endless gratification to me (I gave away thousands of them over the years), even as my oddest edible story concerns a high that never happened.
I was employed as a word processor in San Francisco in the Spring of ’85. It was a tedious stint transcribing documents for the Del Monte Corporation, and because I’d spent my working life looking for ways to be off more than I was on I leaped at a chance for four ten-hour days a week at a law firm.
I was hired after a single interview. I knew there’d been thirty other applicants, so I was feeling pretty smug my first day on the job.
Then my co-workers wised me up:
“You were hired because you’re tall and straight.”
“What’s that got to do with anything?”
“Betsy has a thing for tall guys.”
Betsy was the word processing manager. I looked across the room at her office, saw her wink at me.
Damn, I thought, this gets better and better.
“Yeah,” said one of the girls. “Can you even type?”
This was Bonnie, the Mormon in the group, with a rare attempt at a joke. If you’d asked someone to point out the Mormon among us anyone but a blind guy would identify her: she had a wide, milk-fed face that beamed goodwill and charity to all.
How do Mormons do that? Where do they get off acting like real Christians? Every time I saw Bonnie I wanted to squeeeeze her chubby cheeks, as if the secret to being high without drugs would rub off on me.
But no such luck … I was forced to admire her buoyancy from afar. Which was easy enough in that place, where the rest of the crew were as dissipated as I was: I sold pot to all of them and fucked Betsy twice in a conference room down the hall. (Though we didn’t particularly like each other.)
As Summer turned to Fall I was considering another job when the crew was invited to Betsy’s thirtieth birthday party. It took place at her home in Berkeley on a Saturday afternoon and, rather than agonize over what to bring, I baked two dozen pot brownies. I hadn’t been making them long at the time, so they were probably stronger than I intended, but I was careful to post a warning atop the plate:
It’s hard to be clearer than that, right? Because Berkeley or not there were straight people at the party, particularly Bonnie and her husband Jeremiah. They were newly married and looked naked without their future kids around them.
The party started at noon and by two it was obvious which of the attendees had ignored my warning and consumed entire brownies. (They did taste good, oddly enough; must have been the whole cube of butter.) There was evidence of the “Gumby Effect” everywhere, a rubbering of extremities that collapsed people on couches and chairs, unable to navigate the room or even sit up straight. I kept one eye on them and the other on the brownie plate as I navigated the perimeter. I took no joy in getting people too high (well, not that much, anyway), and was learning that the more you warned them about eating the whole thing … the more likely they were to do it.
It’s why I noticed when Jeremiah, who’d been hovering near the brownies as he chatted with a secretary from the firm, reached back, grabbed one and lifted it towards his mouth.
I was halfway across the room, yelling “NOOOOOOOO!” at the top of my lungs, as half the brownie disappeared in his maw. I bowled over one guy, knocked a piece of cake from another woman’s grasp as I raced up to Jeremiah, spun him around, stuck my hand in his mouth and scraped out the mushy residue.
Then I tore the rest of the brownie from his hand. The whole room was as shocked as the sputtering Jeremiah.
“Hey, man!” I said, smearing the half-chewed brownie on a napkin and balling it up. “This is marijuana! You were about to eat a pot brownie.”
He wiped his mouth as Bonnie came over and hugged me from behind.
“Oh thank you, Wilson,” she said. “That would have been awful!”
I was feeling vaguely proud of myself: I’d saved her hubby from Mormon Hell. I hoped it would make up for the time, nearly a decade earlier, when I got a Mormon couple drunk and stoned. (He threw up, she slept with my buddy.)
The party broke up around five, and as Bonnie and Jeremiah were leaving she thanked me again, then bent over to retrieve their coats. Jeremiah leaned in, clasped my shoulder with his meaty, farm boy hand:
“Thanks for blowing my one chance to get high,” he muttered. “You do gooder!”
I’d never been called that before.