Saturday, November 30, 2013

The Popcorn Girl, Chapter Five: The History of Cannabis

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Greetings, communist scum. You got a lot of fucking nerve bringing your Satan shop to our town. I know it’s Fagland Central around here, but it’s still America, goddammit. I’d love to take a knife, gut you and scream with joy as your insides spill out in front of you. However, GOD teaches us not to seek vengeance, but to pray for sorry shits like you. We will not go quietly away. If in the future that requires violence just remember you brough it on. My rifle is loaded.

Have a great fucking day.

I get a letter from this same guy about once a month. The threats get more and more creative. If I were not a small-time pot dealer, I would show them to the police.

And what of the flaming hypocrisy? Please. Imagine that you have concocted a fairy tale in which the hero is stabbed, beaten and nailed to a torture device to die an agonizing death. You celebrate this death by wearing a tiny replica of the torture device around your neck (why not an electric chair? a guillotine?). Then you invent a pit of fire, take all those who refuse to believe your fairy tale, and toss them in to burn for all eternity. So let’s get over this idea of hypocrisy. Christians are sick fucks, and this letter is entirely consistent with their death cult.

My particular hell is a table at the Depot, where my desires are at war. The butternut squash soup indicates a wounded man seeking consolation. The long stares into the rainstorm outside reveal a man snuggling up to the abyss.

Something causes me to burst across the patio. I catch him at the corner, grab the shoulder of his coat and push him against a brick wall.


He’s unable to speak. His eyes are huge. I’m sort of enjoying this.

“I’m… sorry. I thought she should know.”

“That is such a bunch of shit. You’ve got a hard-on for her.”

“Please let go of me.”

It’s a polite enough request. I release my grip. I even smooth out his coat. But I continue my narrative.

“Consider yourself cut off. And don’t even think of ratting me out, or I will go straight to your parents.”

“Yes. Okay. May I… go?”

I leave. I am proud of myself for not giving in to my useless compassion. I return to my table and stare at my soup, the adrenaline percolating in my arms. Here’s the sad part: I wasn’t threatening to tell Javid’s parents about his marijuana use. I was threatening to tell them about his rejection of Hindu.

So my first romantic venture is just the fiasco I expected, and somewhere my ex-wife is laughing. I lied about her, too. I did not go to the elders about my doubts. Callie turned me in.

The rain deepens. There’s nothing to do but laugh.


Javid’s being weird. Like he’s afraid to speak to me. I can’t figure the mixed signals. He enables me to go out with Paul, then he hands me a land mine on the way out.

If he knew what I did off-hours, he would run screaming. I have accepted Mack’s offer. How could I not? Cutting my client list to one means a lot less worry about hygiene – or getting caught. The apartment is a gorgeous little place just under the hilltoppers. Fireplace, balcony view. Enormous bed, sunken bath. I feel like a movie star. And no wife means no need for firearms.

“I hope the note didn’t cause any problems.” Javid stands at a safe distance, next to the Icee machine.

“No. Thanks. It was good to… have the information.”

He dashes back to the box office. I look across the street and feel a pang of old-fashioned religious guilt.


I don’t care. You should have known.


I am an evangelist for logic, and logic tells me that there is nothing I can do. If I stop selling, I will have to close the shop. Therefore, if she really does have a problem with this, perhaps it was best that we parted ways.

But logic does not usually meet up with an across-the-street Venus. I catch glimpses of her several times a day. She looks more forlorn than ever, which only intensifies her beauty. My nerve endings tick with her movements.

Oh shit. I am thinking and drumming at the same time. Having become accustomed to the hijinks of dachsunds, my band prides itself on finishing a song no matter what, but now I have drifted right past my drum break and we’re fucked. I flip my sticks into the air; they strike several objects on the way down. The band stops, piece by piece.

“Jesus. I’m sorry. Can we take a break?”

My bandmates have all had evenings like this, so it’s really no biggie. This is part of what I love about Exit Wonderland: our biggest argument, compared to most bands, would barely qualify as a terse discussion. I venture behind the storage shed to continue the ruination of my favorite bush. Anne is running keyboard riffs from our Doors cover. I emerge to find a half-moon dangling from the sycamore tree.

“It’s the chick, isn’t it?”

Smeeed passes me a joint.

“Thanks. Yep – the chick. Also, this.”

“Oh-hoh! So she will partake of the smoke, but she will not abide anybody selling it. Well that is pretty fucked.”

I laugh. “You make an excellent point, Senator. This is just feeling a little rough, you know, for my first time back.”

“Got yourself a looker, though. An impressive debut.”

“Okay. Ready to rock?”

“At all times.”

“Am I getting the tempo right?”

“On POV?”


“Maybe a little faster.”

“A band that wants me to play faster. That is so cool.”


Javid’s being weird again. He keeps peeking around like he’s casing the joint. It’s time to get assertive.

“Look, Javid, can we get over the thing already?”

“The thing?”

“The note thing. The boyfriend thing. Stop feeling guilty, and stop being weird. I would have found out about it eventually.”

He looks like he’s about to argue the point, but then he smiles.


“Just relax.”

“Okay, um…”

He directs a gaze over my shoulder. Fosh is standing at the end of the lobby, looking expectantly at a customer who’s being ignored.

“Oh! Hi. I’m sorry. What would you like?”

The rain is back. God. Rain, rain, rain. The locals tell me it’s a pressure system; they call it El Niño. But it wouldn’t be the first crock of shit I’ve been sold.

In the morning, living on a hillside is terrific. Easter light in the bedroom window; a brisk downhill walk to work. Nighttime, not so hot. After hours on my feet, the trudge uphill makes my backpack feel ten pounds heavier.

I blame part of this on my first “date” with Mack. He recently got the okay to go on the Viagra program. I had to work a solid half-hour to get him off, and then he kept going. He kept yelling “It’s a miracle!” and whipping himself out to admire his adolescent rigidity. Problem is, the rest of his body couldn’t keep up, so his concubine had to do all the work. Still, it was nice to see the old guy so happy.

Most of all, I miss his voice, the even pace of his sentences. His laugh.

When I toss my pack onto the table, it lands with an unexpected thwack. I unzip the top and remove the contents: an extra sweater, my purse, a pair of jeans. A book. The cover features a detailed illustration against a black background. Vivid colors, like a bird by Audubon. A cannabis leaf. Tucked inside is a sheet of yellow notebook paper, folded in half. I open it up and find letters written in black marker. Harold Anslinger.


You’re going to hell, you know.


I’m being a bad boy, but it’s a bright Tuesday and I have no appointments. The free thinkers of Mill Valley will have to fend for themselves. I take the long trail to the snow-globe vista. The air is incredibly clear – I can see Oakland like it’s right next door. The buzz doesn’t last; these days, nothing does. I take a mental snapshot and head downhill. I realize that I am enormously hungry, so I stop by the Mill Valley Market for a bagful of dates.

I feel the need to force myself into some kind of productivity, so I decide to take stock of the science aisle. Sagan, Dawkins and Gould are doing okay, but Douglas Adams is running pretty low. Adams is a conundrum, anyway. I could just as easily put him in the humor section with George Carlin and Julia Sweeney, or use him to start a sci-fi section. None of this matters – wherever I put him, he sells.

Jasmina’s here.


She’s wearing a black turtleneck, which tightens the frame on those dark eyes. I pretend to study my inventory list. “What are you doing here?”

“Saying hi.”

The only thing I truly have faith in is my ability to repel women, so this reappearance puzzles me. It also kind of pisses me off. I stand up and place a hand on the bookshelf.

“I actually would like to know the reason you’re here.”

She looks nervous. Good. She reaches into her bag and pulls out Martin Booth’s The History of Cannabis.

“I want to talk about Harold Anslinger.”


I’m a little surprised at Paul’s reaction, but the book seems to calm him down.

“So. You understand.”

“I hadn’t realized the level of treachery, and…”


This makes me laugh, which makes Paul laugh.

“Bullshit is the central target of my life. The most harmless drug in the world is reviled because Mexicans brought it here, negro musicians made it popular, and Harold fucking Anslinger decided he could grab a whole lot of power and money by demonizing it.”

I touch Paul on the arm to stop him. “Honey. I read the book. I know. That’s why I’m here. I… wanted to apologize for being so judgemental.”

Paul takes his arm away and walks into the next aisle. “I appreciate your apology. Does this mean you’d like to be a client?”

“No, I…”

“Then maybe you should leave my store. That book doesn’t change the fact that cannabis is illegal. I have to be careful. I’ve already cut off your pal Javid.”

He retreats further, to his stool behind the counter.

“Vijay gave me the book.” This seems to catch his attention. “But it’s not about that. It’s about… Paul, I like you.”

He takes off his spectacles and pinches his nose. “You like me. What is this, third grade? This is a real fight I’m putting up here, and I can’t be sidetracked by some dilettante piece of ass who changes her beliefs every time someone hands her a fucking pamphlet. Now get out. Please. Leave.”

“But I…”

“Now! Please.”

I suppose that’s the power of someone who’s so calm and even all the time. When they shout at you, you feel it. Despite all intentions, I find myself on the sidewalk, headed toward the Depot. A minute later I am staring into a window display of glass figurines – faeries, birds, unicorns, butterflies – and thinking of Tennessee Williams.


I’m a little proud of myself. In the face of great temptation, I held my ground. I sit on a crate in the philosophy section, staring at the collected works of Bertrand Russell. Someone walks in, but I hold off on a greeting. (When one is contemplating atheism, one is easily spooked.)


Jesus. I rise to my feet and there she is, holding the book to her chest like a shield. We spend fifteen seconds looking at each other. She takes a breath.



“I won’t leave.”

I am faced with the greatest threat to human reason ever created: a beautiful woman who’s about to start crying. I feel my shoulders melting.


I have stopped breathing. Finally, he rolls an arm and says, “Follow me.” He takes me to the back of a storage room, grabs a fully-loaded set of shelves and pushes it aside with surprising ease (the boxes are empty).

Behind the shelves is a door. Paul undoes a combination lock and leads me down a narrow set of stairs into a brightly lit room. When he reaches the bottom, he heads to the left of a room-wide curtain and pulls it across. Five long tables host a half-dozen buckets each. Each bucket holds a plant, three feet tall, spring green, with spiked leaves. A network of black tubes runs from plant to plant. A framework of PVC pipes holds a dozen sunlamps.

Paul stands before them like a teacher addressing a class. I stumble on the final step and catch myself on the back of his shoulders.

“Welcome to The Spa. As you know, the other thing the bullshitters hate is that we can grow our own – which keeps their filthy hands off our pocketbooks. The next question being, ‘Are you in or are you out?’

“It’s beautiful.”

He reaches up to take my hand. “That wasn’t the question.”

“Oh! In. Yes. In.”


Photo by MJV

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