Of Incense, Herb and Smoky New York Nostalgia: A Memoir of the Great Weed Drought of 1998

Okay I probably should have more shame than to post about how enjoyable the newest Hot Pockets commercial is with Snoop Lion  and Bow Wow especially since I would never eat Hot Pockets ever but the truth it is mad funny!! Now I never have had a Hot Pocket and what’s more I never want one. In my youth I baked for jovial companionship’s sake and surely with as much frequency as my peers and there was gorging upon junk food before during and afterward of course but–

Well, allow me to amend that statement for clarity and fact.

I cannot make the claim that I baked with as much frequency as my jovial companions because my peers, who were primarily my two house mates in the apartment we shared off-campus, stayed lit ALL DAY, ERRY DAY without fail. They managed a continuity of herb induced mellowness, a state of being that required rigorous discipline upon their part which worked according to a strict schedule and brooked no deviation from its religious practice. That is, until the Great Herb Drought of ’97…ah, I tell you young uns out here you don’t know nothin’ until you survive a Drought, dear god. But I shan’t think those bad ole days….

Our apartment was smoky basement den of herb and incense though we kept a very neat home that also benefited from excellent fresh air cross currents of the open windows and fans. If you were a fellow traveler, a Smoker-Toker-Stoner of similar religious devotion then the atmosphere was quite pleasant. But we could be driven to a furious panic and maniacal fits of house cleansing over drive for days prior to parental visits, attempting to make the quarters look and smell less…. HERBAL …..and incense overwhelmed.

One Friday evening my housemate Jackson warned me that he was going to pick up his sister, who was visiting for the weekend, and that he’d be returning in 20 to 30 minutes. Being more than lightly toasted already from God’s greatest and grandest plant I seated myself down at the kitchen table to sort out the seeds and stems from the dime bags I had purchased earlier that day. I was peaceably sorting — alas, forgetting Jackson’smarihuanagirl3 warning that he was returning directly with his older sister. Thus, I was caught out in the shameful act as I sat at the old, beat down wooden kitchen table cutting up a large fragrant pile of herb with a credit card. Oh! Naturally I had enough class to feel embarrassed but also felt the special  resentment a host feels   against non-toker guests: take your delicate sensibilities to somebody else’s sober house for the weekend!!

That kind of stress only causes a stoner to feel greater reliance on the holy nerve easing weedplant; after all no one wants to feel uncomfortable in their own home. It was merely the True Plant of the Lord that I was tending but I felt at that moment like Tony Montana when he was face full in the pile of  coca. All I needed was to stand and an say “Ju wanna fuck wit me?! Hey! Ju fucking wit the best okay? You fucking cock-a-roaches!”  

But that would have been a lie which would only have poorly concealed my mortification and disgrace. We were stoners but we entertained frequently and tried to present a true cozy, homely homeyness to our humble abode. Yet the truth remained that I was a weakling and poorly respected among my friends of higher tolerance and more manly consumption. While still but an innocent my dear friends pressed blunts upon me despite my feeble refusals (“Smoke this shit girl!!”) only to repay their generosity/peer pressure (?) nearly instantly with my snores; inevitably in those early months following  my herbal initiation I could be relied upon to pass out after only a few puffs off a blunt.

The Bronx has changed certainly since I was there but during my hay-days (high-daze?) in the 90s  we were cursed to have to put up with a foul low quality weed sold in our neighborhood that blessed you with a wicked burn in the throat which was increased ten fold by blunts which are harsh at the best of times. It was without doubt or competition the crappiest weed in New York City. It was poor, poor, wack ass weed however, I allow that it did get you high, I must say.

Visitors from other boroughs – let alone out of towners – were consistently appalled at our Bronx herb. It wasn’t that we were too stupid to know good quality from shit but we were prisoners of our borough, loyal to our hood. We were college kids sure, but if it was good enough for the fine residents of the Bronx and our neighbors who surrounded us, then we chose to accept it as good enough for ourselves. Yet  these babyish, spoiled guests had the nerve and ill-manners to complain.  One can only smoke what can be procured, is this not so? And for the gargantuan and constant supply required to keep me and my housemates blunted it was simply an impracticality to go vision-questing and tromping, daily or even weekly, into other distant, unknown boroughs for such a household necessity and staple every bit as critical as bread or milk. 

Henceforth, we became strong as a result of the trials endured by smoking the Bronx weed. We were soldiers living side by side with the People of the Bronx as People of the Bronx, and we smoked what they smoked, what smoke our hometown provided. Yes this is THE BRONX, fool!! Don’t come up in our house, in our hood, talking bout our shitty weed!! We knew it was shitty weed, and we acknowledged the inferiority of the seedy, stemmy, bullshit throat burning, headache causing, crusty poor ass buds we smoked.  Nonetheless, we felt that it was ill befitting the manners and etiquette of guest-friendship to criticize our hospitality. since naturally hospitality demanded that we offer guests a share of  smoke if we ourselves chose to partake in front of them.

 However, as time passed, a certain Realness settled over the household presently and we three determined that hospitality did not, in fact, demand that we share with each and every guest during each and every visit. Lo, we did discern with startling clarity that some visitors verily abused our kindliness, hospitality and spirit of generosity. Thence, we became wise from that which we did smoke, and so, shared no longer. 

Truly the Herb blesses its true and faithful adherents with powerful wisdom and keen saavy. Blessed be the name of that Plant.

Furthermore, it was just plain insulting to have our cordial generosity disrespected so arrogantly by moochers. Yes, the herb was shitty, but it was our herb and only we had right to  insult its quality here in our home. Indeed, do get thyself the fuck away from our bong and out of our house!!

Some guests, foul folk ill-deserving of the guestly manner by which we assiduously treated them, invariably departed with certain of our most cherished and important belongings. Thieves. Our joint roller was stolen about three different times. Three different joint rollers. People are so trifling. Once, we had a party and naturally uninvited guests from our rival clique showed up. Unknown Assailants managed to find their way into one of the bedrooms and rifled through our belongings precisely in order to rob our joint roller. We never understood that. A joint roller costs like seven dollars including taxes. Go to the head-shop and get your own you thieving bastards!

So after every party hosted for the  winsome enjoyment and pleasure of our guests, still afterwards, we three had to tromp down to the Village – again – to purchase a new joint roller again. The fucking thing never failed to disappear in a crowded house. Who can you trust?! We trusted in only ourselves. Sadness and grief over the beloved joint roller endowed our bond of friendship  with unbreakable fortitude.

That is until Mayor Rudolf Giuliani started to crack down on the street weed dealers in the summer of ’97 or ’98. My memory fails me as to which summer precisely (unsurprisingly) that the Great Drought began– but it is certain that the first act of aggression and hostility began when Giuliani sent his band of thugs and  Brown Shirts – also known as NYPD –  to persecute the street level weed merchants, runners and other peeps of the Plant. This was the beginning of the drought on the streets that eventually became deeply serious in its effects upon my household and in many other New York City households as well.

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Artwork by Mcfreshcreates

 

You cannot even understand the severity and the sufferings of this time period. All of New York City was effected. At times I feared for my friends’ sanity as the nightmare of withdrawl began to set in, rear its ugly head and take hold with a ferocity that was unimaginably harsh but especially so upon those like my housemates who had been accustomed to maintaining a continuous high broken with only rare visits to the flat garish surfaces of reality and sobriety during the early days of yore, in which there was plentiful living off the fat of the land . 

As the days stretched out and my housemates’ precious stash became more depleted tempers flared at the slightest annoyances: “Turn that damn Wyclef album down!! I’m fucking tired of hearing “Guantanamera”! Don’t play that shit no more!! I hate Wyclef! I hate Guantanmera!! I hate you!! Arrrghh!” 

The anguished attacks  by my loved ones, my usually mellow friends who were full of cheer and good humor, became standard operating procedure around the house in the days of drought. Ah! the golden days of plenty had wound to a shocking halt. The days of lean and mean had arrived.  And once upon a time “Guantanamera” had been everything. 

There was no weed to be found in the Bronx. Or, anywhere for that matter, and the search to locate a mere dime bag was fraught with paranoia and true danger as well.  Only with much perseverance, frantic worry and dedicated search and seeking did the guys return one day after several hours  of searching the streets of the Bronx for the elusive herb. David and Jackson, my roommates, were deeply effected by the circumstances that forced their lifestyle to become temporarily disrupted. And David, who lived joyfully off Hot Pockets, was becoming despondent. Jackson had become agitated and  aggravation bedeviled him; in this state it was interesting to glimpse the possible motivations for our smoking habits beyond the simple enjoyable escapist possibilities. Finally, after a week of trailing out deep into the Bronx streets, they found a 300-pound dealer ,who went by the name Jello, who could be found lurking in the darkest, most shadowy apartment block doorways beyond Webster Avenue. 

Jello sold huge, fat 20-bags of surprisingly good weed, much better than our usual stuff. Of course his gimmick was to get new clients used to his unusually fat 20 bags, and then to slowly decrease the size and amount after clients became established loyal customers. And, since Jello’s competition was negligible due to NYPDs aggressive street raids , it was up to Jello to set his own price-versus-quantity and quality standards. Nevertheless, Jackson and David cared little  now for the standards of old because this was a Time of Drought.

Drought is a serious time when no laughter is allowed or heard; indeed, nothing is funny at all, ever in drought. There were only serious, hushed talks  to which I was not privy, nor invited to join. Drought shows men  and women what they are made of. Merely the suffering alone , the inability to get what one wants and needs is enough to break the weak down utterly. Because I lived with them I knew how deeply effected my housemates were, and even though my consumption was well below theirs even I began began to feel  anxiety at the lack of our beloved herb as that hot, hot summer wearily drudged on.

Each day they ventured out to hunt during the worst days of the Drought, to seek out some weed, any weed. Looking at me as they exited the house to conduct their dark business  their eyes grimly set and hardened, like menfolk taking up the mantle of Adam’s sin which condemned all mankind to work by the sweat of his brow and to consume  dust forevermore.

“You can’t come,” they said, passing me in the kitchen, voices on edge. 

I didn’t argue. Truth was, I had absolutely no intention of rolling out across the Bronx streets with two white boys in a desperate search for reefer: nothing could have ensured failure more absolutely than my presence among theirs. David was the grunge rock guy of our group and Jackson, the neat attractive gay man who easily passed for straight whose manner was chill enough that he still earned mad respect from all the black weed dealers in the neighborhood, some of whom had signaled more than casual  interest in him. 

They’d tramp home each day after  searching in the terrible heat of July that summer, sometimes bringing green gold with them. Sometimes empty handed and hangdog, like men seeking slave-wage day-labor only to be refused, shamefaced and demoralized returning home to the womenfolk empty-handed once again. 

Jackson  was practically a Master Chef by sophomore year and he made incredibly elaborate and delicious meals. And , often  hungry, this arrangement  was more than satisfactory. I probably haven’t eaten so healthy or so deliciously since I moved away from our little off campus household. However David still drew sustenance from herb and Hot Pockets which I just couldn’t understand. Seemingly,  most of the  males who partake of herb swear by the glory of Hot Pockets. I’m not disrespecting  or judging (well, only a little) but I shall continue to abstain (from Hot Pockets, I mean. What good can come from abstaining from herb, I ask you?)

So, you see when I saw the Hot Pockets  commercial it unleashed a treasure trove of vivid memory and nostalgia for the days of my Bronx life during those college years when I fancied myself a grown -up but in reality I know now that we all were merely kids, lucky and blessed enough to be able to attend school away from home in one of the most majestic cities in the world.

I assure you, dear Reader, that I am not presently baked though I cannot deny a wistful fondness that has arisen as I write this; it would not be an unwelcome state, not at all. Still, I merely wished to transcribe a detailed, accurate account of a little known chapter in the history of my merriest days, to create a portrait of those balmy precious summer days in the quaint 1990s. Let this be a memoir of my bohemian years in New York City living a student’s life replete with friendship and occasional study, mellowly drifting afloat on a cloud of incense and herb .

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Author: Politrixie

Politrixie the Political Mistress is a blogger, reader, poet and feminist. I am a mistress of mischief, an arty scholar and an Ivy League heffa.

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