Getting baked one fine evening in California

I eschew all mind-altering substances as a matter of principle, for several reasons. Foremost is the fact that I am so friggin' happy with the way reality has turned out that I can't imagine wanting to change one tiny iota of it. Let's face it: Victory in Iraq is almost ours; global warming, while troubling, couldn't be all that big of a deal, or somebody would be doing something about it. The American Gulf region is all healed since Hurricane Katrina; love and compassion reign o'er the land; Dick Cheney is the Easter bunny; George W. Bush is the smartest president ever.

But even the most stalwart of us have to suspend our principles occasionally for the sake of politeness. Like during my recent visit to California.

I was visiting a friend recovering from chemotherapy. Tired after the long drive, and anxious about his health, I was wrapped a little tight when I arrived. But after a fine meal of tofurky glazed with green algae sauce and a glass or two of sulfite-free wine, it occurred to me that maybe things weren't so dire after all. He looked good and seemed happy enough; his color wasn't bad, either.

Dinner masticated and swallowed, I was about to suggest we aid our digestion by taking my dog for a walk, when it came to my attention that they had other ideas. Three brown prescription bottles, complete with childproof caps, appeared on the table. I paid little attention, assuming they contained garden-variety pills to be swallowed "with food." But, oh, I was so wrong. The first was labeled "Maui Wowie," the second "Kush," and the third, ah, I can't remember. There are several things from that moment on I can't remember.

Welcome to the world of medical marijuana.

"It's the only thing that kept me eating at all," said my friend. "I was lying in the hospital bed, and one of my docs came in and asked me if I still smoked pot. I said sure; he scribbled out a prescription, and I've been refilling it ever since." He said whenever he needs to, he heads over to the local herb-shop proprietor, hands over the script and walks out happy as can be.

"But it's still a federal crime, isn't it?" I asked naïvely.

"I dunno, is it?" he said, handing me the pipe.

"I think so," I said, in kind of a squeaky way; I was holding in a lungful. I realized later: This was a big mistake. And the second lungful even bigger.

"Holy shit," I said, trying to remember where I was, how I got there and why.

"Not like the old days, is it?" he said. I recalled shitweed and $10 dollar "lids," which is what we called ounces, the crap we used to smoke when we were kids. By the time I finally gave it up, sinsemilla was all the rage. Seedless pot was brand new back then, with growers getting the hang of grafting one weed on to another.

Time has marched on. Boy, has it marched. The room started to spin; I couldn't tell if my glasses were on or off, since "fuzzy" had simply become the way of all things. My friends have a three-story circular house, and my dog was looking at me like I was the most irresponsible owner ever, since he needed to go out and pee. I sensed instinctively that I was in for trouble.

"Where's the front door?" I asked my zoned-out friends. It could have taken three seconds to get the words out, or 30. They told me, and I suppose their answer was succinct--they live there and, presumably, they know where their front door is--but it made absolutely no sense to me at all. They could have been speaking Mandarin.

Bravely, I set off on my own. Down the circular staircase were a series of doors, each closed. I was afraid to open any one of them, like in the movie Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey, the hell part, where Granny S. Preston might be behind one angling to give me a kiss. I had this strange idea that were I to open the wrong door, I might fall off a precipice, release a closet full of demons or reveal a wall of water. I wasn't willing to risk any of those.

After weighing my options, I told my dog, "You can hold it." After that, I remember trying to crawl up the stairs, cursing Buckminster Fuller for his damn geodesic dome concept in the first place--and then nothing. Not until I awoke face-down on the carpet. I was very comfortable, toying with the idea of staying there forever, but realized, of course, it wouldn't be polite.

Somewhat haltingly, I rejoined my friends. One said, "You find the front door?"

I lied. "Sure." If my dog could talk, he would have said, liar, liar, pants on fire, and he would have been right on the money.