Saturday, February 13, 2010

Tequila and Cocaine

The Dust. The Heat. The Extremity. The Desert City. The Tequila. The Cocaine. The Shark.

For my 12th consecutive year as a Black Rock City resident I drank tequila and snorted cocaine every day. I promptly stopped upon return to the default world. I didn’t use weed and was THC free for three months before so called it “My first sober Burning Man”.

I don’t drink. I don’t use cocaine. I criticize others use of both.

The first few times I tried cocaine were in the bathroom on a film set, curious because of everyone else's rampant use. I found it less effective and euphoric than caffeine, and bothersome in its duration and comedown.

Once I visited the Medicine Man and he sold me weed, gesticulating excitedly about politics and spirituality. He was more amped than I’d ever seen him and I kept looking at him quizzically. Picking up on this, and looking as though he knew better but wanted to let me in on a secret – he told me he had some cocaine that no one had seen since the 1980’s. I refused at first, but he persisted that I should at least look at it.

The one time I’d bought my own gram of cocaine it was a dull powder, like baking soda. That’s what I was used to seeing - even at the best Hollywood parties. I walked into his private back room and there was an ornate, gold encrusted alter, with tiny drawers containing spoons and straws. The top of the small chest of drawers was mirrored, with mirrored walls on three sides set at 123 degree angles. On top of Old Smokey was a fist-sized rock of cocaine. It shone and glistened – reflecting the light in the room in all directions – as pure as driven snow. My jaw dropped. I accepted his offer of a line. He chipped it off of the rock and handed me one of the straws, sterile and wrapped in paper. I unwrapped it and bent down towards the mirror, eye to eye with the rock of Gibraltar. It was so bright I felt my pupils down aperture.

I got it. The euphoria, the openness, the feeling of being on a manageable dose of MDMA with no comedown, no negatives – just pure enhancement. When the effects of my line had exhausted he offered me another, but I refused. It was my first positive experience with cocaine and I was satisfied. I felt that I understood the decades prior with more clarity – and I never accepted an offer for cocaine again until Burning Man 2009.

Something about the psychic and physical space of Black Rock City alters the way drugs affect people’s bodies. For me, the drugs I choose there are a different set than I would when not there.

I had two buddies, one for tequila, one for cocaine. My tequila friend mixed me organic tequila margaritas with organic agave-sweetened mixes of different exotic, all natural flavors (blackcurrant, meyer lemon, blood orange, and pomegranate). I enjoyed getting drunk with my friend, it bonded us in our travels and experience there - though we spent considerable time apart We had stopped at three BevMo’s on one day and back again at one of them on our way out – as the beginning of our pilgrimage. We carried nothing illegal but were loaded down in hundreds of pounds of liquor and beer for ourselves and others.

Agave is a friend of mine. I avoid sugar as a poisonous drug, but occasionally I’ll turn to agave’s sweet nectar to tickle the tooth and tongue. I never tolerated alcohol well, until I discovered that it is all about quality, and that I take well to agave. I can handle my tequila. As Little Brother would say "It's not alcohol, it's tincture of agave." The alcohol made me feel keenly adjusted to the desert city. Aware of myself, aware of my place, aware of my surroundings – present.

My cocaine friend brought four grams to last us the week. It was mediocre, but I was so boozed up and he was so tripped out that it didn’t matter. It just helped me stay the course. I was surprised to find that the drug that Burning Man is lengthened the duration of cocaine considerably, so that a few lines would get me high for hours at a time.

The cocaine made me feel immortal, and heightened awareness even more combined with the tequila, adding a glow to the city. I floated along on air and confidence. Often it made me annoyed with others that didn’t. I realized how often I look down on those not as sharp as I am, and I how I chase those that are sharper.

The others referred to their vaporizing sessions as “safety meetings”. My cocaine friend and I referred to our sessions as “danger meetings”. We would meet in secret. We’d use a full-length mirror furnished by Wal-Mart laid across both of our laps, and rolled up hundred dollar bills. During the peak of the cocaine high question each other with animation as to why this particular substance is so taboo in the circles we find ourselves in. Clearly MDMA is more damaging to the body, and everyone around us was rolling on E – but cocaine is poo-pooed and maligned by the same pseudo-hippie crowd.

Each day I would consume around a half liter of organic tequila and five or so lines of cocaine. I became a queenpin. Confident and arrogant. Output centric. On the few days I wore my shark costume I felt perfectly suited.

The Black Rock Desert doesn’t give a fuck about you. It’ll tear you apart, the alkaline seeping into your skin and causing lesions, filling your lungs and giving those that stay out there long enough a lung disease similar to silicosis. Tequila and cocaine were my Popeye’s spinach. I triumphed, I transcended. There was no sloppiness – every move was precise. I was filled with a present invincibility, and available to all. I was reliable, on time, full of integrity. I gave pep talks, I was a shoulder to cry on, I was a leader and a sorcerer. I looked down my nose at all the uncontrolled debauchery and wonderment. I was controlled. I was certain. I was drunk and high.

I had always believed I could never be an alcoholic or a cocaine addict, drunk or cokehead, boozer or fiend. I had never drank or snorted cocaine two days in a row in my life until this week. I now realize that with habitual use I can accomplish addiction to anything – I just need to put my mind to it.

Relapse/Relax (215 III)

I leave the partner on the winter solstice. Quit growing dope, quit the relationship, and move out, all in one day. I stay with friends in Los Angeles.

Los Angeles has a higher number of dispensaries per capita than anywhere else in the state. At present time this means over 500 medical marijuana establishments, more than Los Angeles has of Starbucks and Coffee Bean combined. The City was delinquent in following the 215 guidelines to set zoning regulations for medical marijuana pharmacies – and so they bloomed. Once Obama stopped federal intervention, they became a thriving market force that blocks the Mayor and City Council’s efforts to curb use in various ways. At present it’s only a city block’s walk in any direction to come across a weed shop.

Knowing that this might not last, feeling the pain of a life empty of the lover/partner/friend – and prescription in hand – I go to town. Wandering dazedly from shop to shop, buying a pre-rolled joint or a gram off of their menu of dozens of choices. Rating them, experiencing them, delving into the sativas, indicas, edibles, tinctures and more. I smoke openly on the street – so do enough others that I feel absolutely secure. I watch the sunlight glinting on the waters of the Pacific, I take photos of Los Angeles oddities, I feast on the deli section of Whole Foods, I miss appointments and lie to friends, and I am deeply medicated.

At first it is like meeting a long lost friend. That part of me that the cannabis brings out. She’s a beautiful woman, the Green Diablolita – so opposite and complimentary to her sisters in trinity – Blue Diablolita and Red Diablolita. After enough months off and a good enough relapse – I realize that addiction has robbed me of the best parts of the drug. With habitual use the creativity and sensation enhancement fades – and all I am is mildly dull. I feel it necessary to maintain continued sobriety to accomplish long set-aside goals. This abstinence leaves out that part of me that I am so used to maintaining and managing in the world, and having back the developmental under-the-influence of THC self that I have built over a ten year period is empowering and fun. I know, in the end, that the Middle Way is the only way. However, I can honestly say I’ve yet to find mine. Perhaps all life is a strife for that perfection.

After a while – all I feel is dull. So I quit again. And then relapse. And then quit again. And then, one day: I feel at choice. And I sit down … and write.

There are a range of weed shops. I enjoy the simple ones – and have noticed that often the quality of their product outdoes the flashy places. I walk up to the door. I ring the doorbell. I’m buzzed into a holding area and a security guard behind plexiglas verifies my prescription by phone (or just by my license and patient number, if it’s not my first time). Then I am buzzed in or led in to the main area where there are clerks behind a glass case. What if alcohol were sold like this?

I find myself gravitating towards the places with live plants. There are specials on a board, there is a menu on the wall with a dozen selections each under Indica, Sativa, and Hybrid – and there is a full range of edibles from ice cream and vegan gluten-free cookies to fruit-roll ups to pizza. There are lounges to vaporize, there are lounges to smoke. The prices range. I usually by $15-$25 grams or $10-$12 joints, because I can, because they take credit cards, and because I never want to try the same Kind twice. And OH is it Kind – Cali weed of the finest quality a highly competitive market can produce. Knowledgeable salespeople who can tell you exactly how it was grown, what products, where.

I flashback to a decade ago when there were none of these shops and I had to spend hours getting marijuana at first from a friend of a friend (always missing a bud for each stop down the line) – then from a string of drug dealers that connected me to crime. The sheer legality of it all is wonderful, not having to jump through hoops any more ridiculous than referring to weed as medicine and never talking about sharing in the shops – very freeing. I laugh at the accuracy of the DSM definition of cannabis dependence through the lens of prohibition. In the end – this is what it takes to get me to lose interest in getting high. Take the chase away, and I’m not smitten anymore.

After a few weeks of this I am done. It was worth it, it was great – but I’ve had my share.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Attack of the Clones (215 II)


I unpacked the truck into the grow house – and at once the lover became my boyfriend, housemate, and business partner. His mental illness may have colored the process – but I hated growing weed. Hate it.
Beautiful and ebullient life, sacred plants with their happy leaves that look like hands – reaching up to artificial lights in an indoor environment, with forced air and ventilation, the sound of fans and AC, and often a screaming madman impacting their growth with his wrath.
I dreaded 8:00. The lights would snap on, and I’d descend into the underground plant jail to mix water, organic fertilizers, and adjust the pH. I’d water the plants, tie up those of them that drooped, water the veg room if needed, and as we grew in soil I would transplant anything that needed it – all rarely to his satisfaction. I’d then clean the rooms, and empty the trays from the water that had runoff. I regretted being tied to this nightly task, the loss of freedom far outweighing any money made – and from where I sat we made no money, just kept sinking further into debt on my credit cards as the lover obsessively updated the room in preparation for expansion that never seemed to happen at a pace rapid enough to justify the expenses.
One of the only parts of the job I enjoyed was getting out of the house to fill up the four 5 gallon jugs at the nearby grocery store water station – a joy that was taken away from me when the partner convinced me to invest in a reverse osmosis machine. The other task I withstood was trimming, despite the partner screaming at me that I did it too slow, or was cutting too close or too loose when there was no discernable difference between his work and mine.
I quit smoking, eating or vaporizing weed. After ten years of almost daily use – I was done. And he raged at me for that – for treating the job like a job, for only caring about the plants for how much money they would bring in, not for how they would get me high.
Before the partner convinced me to invest in a clone machine (and aquarium chiller to keep the water at the correct temperature) – we reached a few plant number emergencies due to the partner’s inability to see into the future and my novice gardening skills.
I was always happy to volunteer to leave the house on grow room related activities; any time we needed supplies from the hydro shop or clones I’d eagerly run the errand.
And so – the first time I stepped into a medical marijuana pharmacy I was months sober and not there to buy the finished product – I was there to buy clones.
I savored the process of buying clones. I luxuriated in the elitism of having my prescription verified and being buzzed passed security, of learning the lineage of the different strains, of using a magnifying glass to determine any insect activity – and being educated on how many days from soil to flowering to finishing. Most of all – this was the only area of our grow operation that I had any control over. The clone menus would be posted online, but often when I arrived at the shops the selection would be entirely different from expected. In the end, it was up to me to choose the varieties and the individual mini-plants.
The satisfaction of carrying my tray of sensitive plants, less than 8 inches tall, nestled in rockwool and innocence, and placing it on the front seat of my car and driving them the two hours to their new home was immense. Every step of this process was legal. I had no fear of being stopped or questioned by police officers; I would often take my prescription out of my wallet and lay it over the plastic dome covering the plants to prevent them from wilting in the baking Southern California sun.
It was through this that I came to accept Proposition 215. Though in my eyes I was not and am not a legitimate medical marijuana patient – I AM a legitimate gardener. I am qualified to plant a plant, and to oversee its growth. It’s my God-given right. That there is no other way to legally do this with cannabis made me accept the law, and accept my caretaker role, and be deeply thankful and profoundly proud to be a Californian.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

215 I

I am sitting in a doctor’s office waiting room. This is no ordinary doctor’s office – it’s one of the network of Medicann offices, and I am here to get a prescription for medical marijuana.

Why am I here today? After railing against the idea for so long? After claiming I’d rather be a criminal than a patient? Because I have a moving truck sitting in the parking lot – ready to be unpacked into a grow house.

The wait is quite ordinary; I am not seen until an hour and fifteen minutes after my appointment time. There are about ten people in the waiting room with me, and from what I can see it is a constant stream of people – and this is not a day that the office accepts walk-in patients. As I wait, I observe the process.

There is a receptionist who copies each patient’s California Driver’s License when they enter the office, takes prior records relating to the condition, and hands out forms to fill out. When the forms are completed and returned to her with a $150 payment, she does some paperwork and attaches them to a clipboard which she puts in a plastic sorting thing hanging outside the doctor’s office. The doctor spends at least fifteen minutes with each patient. When the patient exits the office, the doctor takes the next chart and calls the next patient in. The patient returns to the receptionist and has their photo taken, and is issued an embossed prescription including a photocopy of their license, and a photocopy of that which they are instructed to carry on their person at all times. The laminated card for which the photo is taken will be sent in the mail. A pamphlet listing nearby medical marijuana providers is included in the packet handed to the patient.

After filling out my form where I admit to vaporizing a gram of marijuana a day to deal with neck pain, and rate the “side effects” of its use on a 1 to 10 scale of discomfort (I give the munchies a 10) – I am offered coffee, tea or water, which I refuse. I overhear that the doctor I am to see today is the founder of Medicann, and cycles from office to office in the network. I feel lucky.

The waiting room is clean, but not sterile like other doctor’s offices. It’s painted a pleasant, light forest green. There is a running fountain in the corner, and plenty of windows. Instead of magazines there are pamphlets educating patients about other alternative healing options – acupuncture, massage, nutrition. I am happy to see these and find it ironic considering that the doctor I am about to see is an M.D. - not an alternative practitioner. I also find it encouraging that the average stoner seeking their scrip will be educated about these modalities.

The other patients range in age and size and class and race and the visibility of their illness. The girl before me comes out of the office. It’s the day after her 21st birthday and she has just woken up - she asks the receptionist if she can go home, get made up, and put on a bra before her photo is taken. The receptionist acquiesces.

It’s my turn. The doctor calls my name. He is a light skinned black man with a few small dreadlocks running down the length of his back. He looks healthy. He is not wearing a white coat. I walk into the office and take a seat. He goes over my chart, and is so impressed by the letter written by my massage therapist he asks me if he can have her name and number, which I provide. He hands me back my chiropractic records, telling me that he only needs one piece of paper because the folders get very thick and won’t fit in the file cabinet.

He then asks me to stand up and turn my head and raise my arms and other ridiculous and ineffective ways of checking on my neck. I thank the State of California for turning us all into liars who perform elaborate dances and speak in jargon while fully knowing that it’s a farce.

It is true that my neck only turns so far in one direction, and that I suffer from neck pain. It is not true that marijuana helps in the slightest, it only makes it worse. I keep this fact to myself.

He tells me I should look on the Americans for Safe Access website for details on my rights as a medical marijuana patient. He says that I may use my medicine anywhere – but if I am in a motor vehicle I must stop, pull over to the side of the road, sit in the passenger seat if I’m not already there – and take the keys out of the ignition. In the next sentence he tells me that it is illegal to drive under the influence.

He educates me that I can use “medicine” in a balm form to soothe the muscles in my neck. I genuinely did not know that before he told me so. I still haven’t tried it.

As a punchline, he comes to the part of the form where it asks the name of my M.D. I wrote “n/a” on the form.

“I see you have no Medical Doctor”

“No, I’ve just used massage, chiropractics, and yoga to handle the pain. I guess I should find one.”

“In Heaven’s name no. You are already doing everything you should be to treat your condition.”


“DO NOT find a Medical Doctor, you do not need one. We just want to give you drugs.”