Mike_Edison_You_Are_a_Complete_Disappointment

Now playing on the Otherppl with Brad Listi podcast: Mike Edison, former publisher of High Times magazine and former editor-in-chief of Screw magazine. He is also a musician and a professional wrestler. His new memoir, You Are a Complete Disappointment, is available now from Sterling Books.

 

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I’ve never calculated the amount of money I spend on marijuana before because I’m afraid of what I’ll discover, but here are the facts: I go through roughly an eighth-an-ounce of marijuana per week. Good weed is typically around $50 per eighth, which works out to $200 per month, $2,400 per year, and $12,000 over the past five years, or the price of a slightly used Hyundai.

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My father’s farm in Virginia is called Oak Hill. When he bought it, not long after he divorced my mother, there was in fact a cluster of enormous oak trees that shaded a white clapboard, nineteenth-century house that stood on the hill in the center of the farm, but the house burned down before my father could move into it. Some of the oaks survived the fire, which occurred on a Halloween night, but despite whispers that the previous owner had torched the house, no charges were ever filed. I remember surveying the charred remains and spotting, not charred even slightly, an old board game called Why, the Alfred Hitchock Mystery Game, which, according to the blurb on the box, involved “real thinking, planning, and memory.” I took the game home with me—I lived a twenty-minute drive from the farm with my mother, brother, and sister—but I never played it, and don’t know what became of it. Maybe my memory wouldn’t be so faulty if I had better developed it by playing Why.

You swore you’d open this self-interview with a brilliantly witty question. What happened?

I think my higher karmic obligation to explore my relationship with “expectation” intervened. The fact that you modified “witty” with an adverb didn’t help either.

 

Wait, why are you in Portugal right now?

I’m working for Boom Festival (boomfestival.org) in Project Management and I’m booked as a speaker. You don’t still think one can support oneself writing, now do you?

 

I would say: At dusk, the crops’ silhouettes held to the sky like herons cemented into the earth, leaves flapping feebly in the Northern California wind, unable to lift themselves from the forthcoming hands of the Morning Pickers, and the watchful green eyes of Lady Wanda—I would say that, but I was likely stoned.  It’s just as likely, the crops didn’t look like herons at all, there was no wind, and it may not have even been dusk.  It could have been morning.  It could have been afternoon.  Having worked on a medical marijuana farm, filling six notebooks with scribblings of varying degrees of sense, and engaging in the attendant and standard subcultural vices, I have made of myself an unreliable narrator.

I answered the door in my pajamas.  The taller of the two girls standing there asked for my roommate, Sheldon.

“He didn’t come home last night,” I said.

“We know you,” the shorter one said.

“I think I served you once.”

“That’s right,” she said. “In Montana. Like a year ago.”

The three of us nodded, pleased to have cleared up that mystery.

“Would you like to come inside?” I asked.

Two weeks ago, the local press went into a frenzy when a man named Don Kerr was arrested for possession of marijuana. His alleged offense was to sign for a package, delivered by the crack agents at the United States Postal Service to his New Paltz office, that contained a reported eight pounds of weed.

Kerr is my neighbor. The corner of his property touches mine, in the manner of Utah and New Mexico. (As I type this, in fact, I can see the back of his house). He’s a nice guy, a family man, a self-styled aging hippie, soft-spoken and personable, who played Bob Dylan covers on a beat-up acoustic guitar at the neighborhood block party this summer. He also happens to be—or happened to be, until his arrest—the president of the New Paltz school board. Which explains the media frenzy. And the local TV news van camped out in front of his house the day after the arrest.

In my circle, which is not especially laden with potheads, the news was something of a buzzkill. We felt bad for him, for his wife and kids, for the school district (no one wants to be the board president; Kerr had to be begged to take the job). The neighbors, far from turning on him, told that TV news truck to get the fuck out of New Paltz.

Even if the allegations are true—and Kerr pled not guilty, so even that is in doubt; far as I know, there’s no law against signing for a package—it’s almost certain that his plans for the product did not include distribution. Some people like to relax by fixing a stiff drink; he likes to smoke a bowl. Who cares?

* * *

I mention the Kerr controversy because the “supercommittee” charged with solving our nation’s debt crisis—has the super- prefix ever been a less worthy modifier?—is now two days away from an epic fail that will make the Kardashian divorce seem like an unqualified PR success.

Just as any disinterested observer with half a brain could, after five minutes, tell you exactly what deal will ultimately end the NBA lockout, that same half-brained disinterested observer could predict what deal will ultimately end this federal standoff: tax increases in the form of cuts to entitlements, combined with drastic reductions in services. As with the NBA, only the people in charge seem unaware of this. We keep hearing the same old party-plank talking points, with nary a new idea in sight.

Well, I have one, a proposal that will drastically reduce the nation’s prison population, eliminate billions of dollars in law enforcement spending, and add a huge source of revenue to the federal coffers:

Legalize pot.

Think about Kerr, about the resources used to arrest him, to try him, and, if it gets that far, incarcerate him. That’s a lot of dough, and for what? How is my neighbor and erstwhile school board president a menace to society? Why—seriously, why—is what he (allegedly) did a crime?

* * *

I’m reading a terrific book now: Last Call, Daniel Okrent’s expansive, exhaustive, and entertaining look at the Prohibition era, a work that puts all of the disparate forces at work at that time into historical context. (If you’re even remotely interested in that time period, run-don’t-walk and acquire that book.)

In 1913, Congress passed an amendment to allow the federal government to tax income. I’d assumed that they did that because we were in a situation like we are now, mired in debt. Not so. The income tax amendment was a necessary precursor to Prohibition. The Anti-Saloon League, far and away the most effective lobbyist group the United States has ever known—Wayne B. Wheeler, its mastermind, was the antecedent to Grover Norquist and Karl Rove—engineered passage of the Sixteenth Amendment in order to achieve its ultimate goal: the Eighteenth, Prohibition.

The ASL needed the income tax revenue to keep the lights on once Prohibition went down: prior to the Sixteenth Amendment’s tax on income, a staggering 30 percent of the federal budget was financed by an excise tax on alcohol. When the country went dry—which it did only on paper—that alcohol tax money evaporated, too.

The nation never stopped drinking, and alcohol was easily procured throughout Prohibition. But instead of collecting money from booze, the government began to spend money on its removal—a fool’s errand at best.

This is true now of marijuana.

* * *

We are, and always have been, a nation of drinkers. Another fun fact from Okrent’s book: the Puritans, the dour bunch who founded the country, came over from Europe with more beer than water in the hold of the Mayflower. They were not puritanical about their booze.

There are not as many potheads as imbibers in the U.S., and the process of growing marijuana, when you remove the part about having to conceal it from DEA agents, is far simpler than, say, distilling whiskey. There’s a reason it’s called weed. So it’s unlikely that the government would collect enough in taxes to underwrite a third of the budget. But would a marijuana tax be sufficient to pay for a health care overhaul? To keep teachers from being laid off? To keep more police on the streets? Isn’t it worth finding out?

(I should interject here that I am not a fan of the wacky weedus. I’ve smoked pot three times, the result being a coughing fit that made me sound like a late-stage consumptive, followed by a not-unpleasant sleepiness. I’d rather smoke a cigar.)

Is marijuana perfectly safe? Of course not. But neither is alcohol. Neither is tobacco. Neither is NutraSweet. Neither is high-fructose corn syrup. In fact, I’d argue that all four of those legal substances pose a greater threat to the public health and well-being than readily-available pot would.

Another Last Call fun fact: one of the legal ways to acquire alcohol during Prohibition was to have a doctor write you a prescription. This is, of course, already happening in California and other states with legalized medical marijuana. The (patchouli-scented) winds of change have already started to shift.

It’s only a matter of time before pot is legal. We should make that time now. I’d rather experiment with a little weed than see the entire economy go up in smoke.

When our kids found out that we would be going to Amsterdam on our next trip, they badgered us not to miss the chance to smoke dope when we had the opportunity to do it legally.  We were called wimps for voicing doubt. We were reminded that we probably would not return to Amsterdam again, old as we are.  They pleaded with us not to be pussies.

A coffee house in Amsterdam is the place where you can buy and smoke marijuana, but not a cigarette.  That would be illegal.  Oddly, they do not have coffee there.  On our first day there, we had an Indonesian Rijsttafel near a coffee house. We passed it and it looked to be a pretty rough place.  There was an imposing bouncer-type dude outside wearing black leather and chains. We took him as representative of the clientele, and kept walking. There was no way we could walk inside that place.

We passed another coffee house the next day that had almost as alarming-looking characters outside it.  (I never knew people could pierce the backs of their necks and their breasts!) We left that place for people with a more powerful mission to smoke dope.

Two days later, we were in a very respectable part of town where there was a coffee shop.  Victor looked at me and asked what I thought.

“Uh, I don’t know,” I waffled.

Victor said that if we didn’t do it in this upscale neighborhood, we never would.  We didn’t want to disappoint the kids, right?

Victor walked inside and I followed.



It was located kitty-corner across the street from Rembrandt’s house.  It was as classy a coffee shop as we had seen.




The man at the bar gave us a drug menu.  We bought a marijuana cigarette and asked for matches. The joint was very narrow and conically shaped.  A third of it consisted of a filter of some sort. It was unimpressive. Victor lit it and we each took a puff and coughed violently.  We were out of practice.  I told Victor I didn’t think I could smoke it.  He said that it was now or never.  I didn’t want to disappoint the kids, did I?



We each took another puff and coughed like consumptives again.  We sat for a while and looked at the joint in the ashtray.  The matchbox was made in Sweden! I thought that was amazing!

Victor suggested that we try a really little puff and see if we didn’t cough so much.  So we took one or two wee puffs more.  About ten minutes passed.  I told Victor that I’d had enough.  He blinked at me.  He said he’d go get us cokes.

We sat over our joint. Half of it was still untouched. We drank some soda.  We looked at the joint.  We drank some more soda.  We looked at the ashtray.  I wondered where it was made.

Victor suggested he drop the partially smoked joint in the soda can. Then we could leave and walk home.  It seemed like a good idea to hide the fact we couldn’t finish it.  I guess we were embarrassed that we turned out to be minor league dope smokers.




I asked Victor if he could find his way home to the hotel.  I couldn’t have found my way in the best of circumstances.  It was my good fortune to have married a map-reading whiz.

My mind was meandering.  I feared I might wander away from Victor to follow my thoughts, so I asked him to keep checking that I was nearby.  He said I could count on him.

We were about two miles or more from the hotel as the crow flies, but the way the streets were mapped out, (do you remember the map I had you draw in an earlier piece?) it was about 100 miles.

I marched behind Victor carefully.  In most places it was impossible to walk next to each other because of the crowds and the swarms of speeding bicycles. After we had walked a block, Victor stopped and appeared puzzled.  He studied the map and then he turned around in a circle and, without speaking, started walking fast.  I tried to catch up, but first I had to explain to my knees that they had to lock with each step, or I would fall down.  If we had kept walking, it would have been all right, but when we stopped, my knees simply discontinued standard operation. Victor was totally involved in the whole map-reading experience and I didn’t want to interrupt him to ask if his knees were functioning normally.  I was anxious to get back to the hotel.

After a few minutes of walking, I stopped and yanked on Victor’s sleeve.

“We are in a hotel lobby!” I shouted.

He looked at me.

“Huh.  Well, it was a hotel lobby, but now it has turned back into a street again,” I said.

Victor patted me on the back.

While we walked, Victor peppered his map reading with mumbled responses to questions that I hadn’t asked.

“Thirty.”

“Yellow, I think.”

“Over there.”

“I don’t think so.”

“Possibly.”

Victor continued to stop, looking puzzled, at most corners to scrutinize the map. He invariably turned around 360 ° and then took off again suddenly.  I really needed to hold on to part of him.  It was quite congested and there were a surprising number of policemen staring at us, who subsequently morphed into tourists who were not actually looking at us. I tucked a finger in his waistband and trailed him closely.

“Victor, things are not what they seem,” I said.

“What do you mean?” he asked.

“What we see is not necessarily there,” I said.

Victor blinked at me.

When I asked Victor if he remembered that I were with him, he did not look surprised to see me.  I took that as a good sign.

I was seriously thirsty, but I did not want to mention it, because I had no intention of stopping until we got back into our hotel.

In actual time, it took an hour and a half to walk back to the hotel.  Victor got us back without a single mistake. When we got to the steps of the hotel, I asked Victor if he thought my knees would be able to understand what a staircase entailed.  He didn’t hear me, but I needn’t have worried, because my knees were able to figure out just how to act when faced with both climbing and descending a staircase.

When we got to our room, I filled the hotel glass with water several times and drank each glass quickly.  It was good water!

“My mouth is dry,” Victor said.

I poured a glass of water for him and brought it over.  He took a couple of sips, and handed it back to me.

“My mouth is dry, but I’m not thirsty,” he said.

“Huh!  I always thought they were the same thing!” I said.

I didn’t like how my lungs felt.  It was as though they were still filled up with smoke.  I wanted to know if Victor felt the same way, but it was way too much trouble to ask.

I lay down on the bed and closed my eyes.Victor said that it was 5:00 and we could leave for dinner at 6:30, if that was all right with me.

“We’ll see,” I said.

“Aren’t you hungry?” he asked.

“Nope.  I just want to lie down and watch where my mind is going,” I said.

Victor got out his computer.  I went into the bathroom and noticed that the tiles were blooming with tiny blue flowers. I had not noticed that they had tiny blue flowers on them before. It appeared that being stoned made possible for me to see how pretty things were.

When I got back to the bed, Victor looked at me and popped up on his elbow.

“What are you eating?” he asked.

“I’m not eating,” I said.

“Then what do you have in your mouth?” he asked.

“My mouth guard,” I answered.

“Why are you wearing your mouth guard?” he asked.

“My teeth are grinding.  Using my mouth guard is only sensible,” I said.

He went back to the computer on his chest.  He was reading his email.

I lay down on the bed and after a while I took out my mouth guard and poked Victor.

“Don’t. Sell. The Farm,” I  said.

“All right,” he said.

“I mean it,” I said.

“Okay,” he said.

I was impressed that he was doing his email.  Victor has terrific powers of concentration.

I poked him again.

“Don’t make any big decisions,” I said.

“I won’t,” he said.

“This is not the time for making big decisions,” I said.

“I understand,” he said.

After a while, I began to say something to Victor but stopped.

“What?” he said.

I started to laugh.

“I just realized what I was going to say doesn’t make sense,” I said.

“What were you going to say?” he asked.

“I was going to say that I was happy that there were no bicycles riding around our bed,” I said.

We laughed a lot about how hard it would be for me to get to the bathroom at night if there were bicycles speeding around the bed all night long.

Victor was also laughing about something he was reading on the Internet.He tried to read it to me, but he was laughing too much for me to understand anything he was saying.

Victor remained obsessed with eating.  He asked me every few minutes if I was ready to leave for dinner.  I finally gave in and we walked to a restaurant. Victor took great pleasure his meal.  My meal was good, but I could have skipped food and just stayed in the room to think some more.

Later that night I was truly disappointed to see that the tiles in the room were just plain brown.  They were far prettier covered with tiny blue flowers.

Marijuana. Mary Jane. Reefer. No matter what you choose to call it, I have never been able to smoke pot. What for some people seems to be a relaxed good time has always been for me a paranoid journey to the center of my mind, where I sit shivering in a cerebral corner, wondering if I’ll ever be able to think normally again.

In college, I reluctantly got stoned with the happy party people around me. Most of these attempts ended with me feeling lost, floating in the universe, indefinitely wondering whether or not I had to pee. Time crawled by thick as resin as I tried to decide if I looked as crazy on the outside as I felt on the inside. If I was lucky, I found a bed to pass out in, mercifully ending my hyper-analytical mental anguish.

It seems like a wonderful ride for most, so for years I tried to stay on the bucking bronco of marijuana before permanently passing the reins to the other space cowboys. Abstaining from pot, combined with my love of exercising and rising early, eventually conspired to make me the least rock and roll chick to ever play guitar in a band. I am decidedly not cool; I’ve made my peace with this fact.

Throughout high school, however, I was still trying to smoke the stuff. My older sister and I would sometimes hide behind one of the many outbuildings on our farm to do it. We’d sit in the grass, leaning against the hay barn; two teenage girls smiling into the summery blue Missouri sky, giggling about nothing and everything. When my parents took the family to Disneyland, she and I got stoned in the It’s a Small World ride. It was there I learned that hundreds of creepy animatronic children singing a repetitive song about the world closing in on me do nothing to ease my pot smoking paranoia. Noted.

On family vacation in Las Vegas that summer, my sister and I quickly tired of the little kid games inside of Circus Circus where we were staying. There were only so many stuffed animals a teenager wanted to win. Bored and seeking fresh entertainment, we left the pink ponies and casino to walk the streets of Sin City. Ducking into an alley, we decided to make our stroll more interesting by smoking a joint she had brought along. Standing next to a ten-foot-high concrete block fence for privacy, by the dirt road that ran between buildings on either side of us, we proceeded to smoke marijuana.

We’d taken a few tokes and I was just starting to feel blurry when a car turned quickly into the alley, about fifty feet away. I brought the joint down from my mouth and held it at my side. I was hoping that the person turning into the alley would think I was only smoking a cigarette, stupidly forgetting that as a non-smoker I looked awkward smoking anything I tried. As the dark blue car drove by and I clumsily passed the joint, we realized in our dulled awareness that it was an unmarked police vehicle. So of course we did the worst thing possible. We panicked.

“That was a cop!” she squeaked as he drove past.

Get rid of it. Get rid of it. Get rid of it,” I whisper-screamed at her.

She frantically tried to toss the joint over the wall next to us. It backed up to a neighborhood, so there was no convenient way around to retrieve the contraband. If we could just get it over the wall, it would be out of sight and virtually unreachable.

My sister has always been petite, and she was unable to throw it over the high fence. The joint bounced off of the wall, rolling futilely back toward us on the dusty ground. We jumped away in fear, as if it was a spider. I grabbed it out of the sand where it sat mocking me like a turd in a litter box and tried to clear the concrete wall again. I’m taller at 5’9″ with greater reach, and it went over this time.

This all happened in the span of a few seconds, so before we could feel relief to have ditched the incriminating evidence, we saw brake lights. No doubt tipped off by our frantic chicken-like scrabbling and obviously guilty behavior, the officer turned around and drove back in our direction while we watched in mute terror. There was nowhere to run, as we were trapped in an alley and didn’t know the area. We both turned our nothing-to-see-here knobs up to eleven, and then he was getting out of the car. Meanwhile, the pot we’d smoked was the kind that creeps up on you, and I was feeling exponentially freaked out by the second. I quickly realized an intimidating police officer was even more paranoia-inducing than soulless puppet children singing at me en masse. My world of hope was quickly becoming a world of fear.

“Did I just see you two girls smoking a joint?” the officer demanded.

It was do or die time. Time to sell it like I’d never sold it before. If we got busted by this cop for pot, there would be no end to the trouble we’d get in. We’d be grounded until I started college for this one, and rightly so. We’d fucked up, big time. I summoned every bit of acting ability I had in my dumb fifteen-year-old body, and tried to push the part of me growing fuzzy from the drugs to the back, working hard for a moment of ass-saving clarity. I put on my best shocked and appalled face at the mention of pot, because pot was awful, and oh my gosh, how could anyone think I’d been smoking pot?

“No officer! I would never smoke pot. But I was trying to smoke a cigarette,” I replied, shame dripping from my voice, eyes cast downward in good girl humiliation. “It was the first time I’ve ever tried it and I didn’t even like it. It was so gross!”

“It looked like a joint to me, whatever you threw over that wall, young lady. If I drive both of you around to the other side, are we gonna find marijuana? Do you think your parents are gonna enjoy having to come pick you up from jail today?”

Shit. If I didn’t pull this off, we were going to end up in a cell, the weak teenage bitches of hardened Las Vegas prostitutes. I silently hoped my prison mistress would at least have a heart of gold. In full self-preservation mode, I quickly realized that my best psychological tactic would be to act so distraught about being caught smoking a cigarette that the pot thing would be downplayed. If I seemed truly disgusted about the cigarette, he might believe me innocent of the worse crime.

“Oh no, please, don’t tell my parents I was smoking a cigarette! They’ll be so mad at me because they hate smoking! This was the first time I’ve ever tried it and I thought it was so nasty. I’m never gonna smoke a cigarette again, I swear it,” I pleaded.

He asked again that if he went to the dreaded other side of the wall, would there be marijuana waiting? I repeated the Please Don’t Tell My Parents I Tried a Cigarette monologue, as if he hadn’t mentioned pot at all. I was working it. Totally owning it. I had the big, tear-filled eyes and the quivering lip; I epitomized the scared young girl gone astray. I was a living, breathing After School Special, begging for a second chance. Before I knew it, even I believed my lies. I was the innocent babe trying those yucky gosh darned cigarettes for the first time. And please don’t tell my parents I was smoking a cigarette, yes cigarette, can I say cigarette one more time? Because it was a cigarette and totally not marijuana, you know. Cough-cigarette-cough.

It finally worked. I couldn’t believe it, but it worked. The officer admonished us one last time with some sort of you kids stay out of trouble speech, got in his car, and drove away. Chastened and shaking like rabbits unexpectedly released from a snare trap, we headed back to the hotel, officially ending our stint as teenage streetwalkers. We walked dazed and confused into the pink nightmare of Circus Circus. Sad clowns and desperate elderly gamblers were definitely preferable to horrified flop sweat and handcuffs.

I never really gave myself much credit for my actions that day, always assuming the cop took pity on me, or had bigger fish to fry. But recently my mom mentioned to me that my sister had told her about the incident. I’m old enough now that my mom has heard most of my naughty stories, and I can only be grounded by myself, so this didn’t bother me. What shocked me was that my sister said my performance for the officer was amazing. She was blown away by my acting ability, and gave me full props for getting us out of what might have been the only arrest of our lives.

She also told my mother, “After I saw Tawni lie so convincingly that day, I knew I could never trust her again!”

Oops.


Benders

By Reno J. Romero

Memoir

I was sitting with Go at a bar on Main Street where years ago I fucked a girl leaning up against the building. We hadn’t seen each other in over ten years and were catching up over wings and whiskey. Go’s real name is Jerrod. We penned him Go because he had a huge appetite for meth. It was Go who gave me my first taste of speed. I was in the 9th grade. He chopped and railed out two fat lines on a Metallica cassette. I remember him laughing as tears streamed down my face. We stayed up all night riding our bikes through the desert until the sun came up.

Even though everyone still called him Go he’d been clean for years. A couple of runs through rehab and he finally got the obsession out of his head. Go came from a family of addicts. His dad was an alcoholic and his mom had a thing for pills. But it was his older brother Tommy who had it bad. He was addicted to everything. Pot. Tweak. Alcohol. Heroin. Coke. It didn’t matter. If you had it Tommy wanted it.

Years later in the sick stale rooms of rehab I heard an addict ask another addict what was his drug of choice.

“What do you have?” he answered.

That reminded me of Tommy.

In college he got into freebasing and everything went downhill from there. Dropped out. Started dealing. Crawled up and down the halls of rehab. Almost died. One night Go and I were on his balcony smoking a joint when a cab pulled up. On the side of the cab it said San Bernardino.

“No,” Go said. “I bet that’s Tommy.”

Sure enough Tommy got out of the cab. It was the middle of summer and he was wearing a leather jacket and ski gloves. His body language told us he was on a bender. He saw us on the balcony.

“I made it!” he said closing the door. “Hey, give me ten bucks. I don’t have enough for the fare. Twenty if you have it.”

We gathered nine dollars (we’d just spent all our cash on an ounce of weed) and threw it down to him. He counted it twice.

“Hey, it’s only nine dollars! Cheap bastards!”

Tommy was messed up, talking gibberish, and making erratic hand gestures. His eyes were gone, dope-stricken. Apparently, he had it out with the old lady, told her they were done, that he didn’t need to take any of her drama. He went to a bar down the street, got drunk, and called a cab. We got him high and cracked into a bottle of tequila. He said he couldn’t stay because he needed to go a buddy’s house so they could work out a contract because they found a cure for cancer. Me and Go were just looking at each other like fuck. We asked him what the remedy was. He lit a cigarette and examined us for a moment through the smoke.

“Sea water,” he said and headed for the door.

In the beginning of last year The Government Accountability Office, which is the investigative arm of Congress, released a report on offshore tax havens. It was long. I knew it was going to be long because it was a PDF that took nineteen hours to download.

Mexico is pretty much the only thing I think about these days.In my last novel, Point Dume, I had a character named Felix Duarte who came across the border to grow marijuana in the hills of Malibu for a Mexican drug cartel.Felix did not live to see the end of that book and frankly his death broke my heart.It also broke the heart of his girlfriend Violeta, his mother, sisters and brothers, and all of his friends.They never found out about the fire that killed him.He was used and discarded by an organization that does not value human life.His loved ones didn’t even know where Felix was when he died.He left home one morning and disappeared from their lives forever.The story of Felix’s life and death is a very common one.Mexico is in a state of complete chaos and the reality of day-to-day life for the average person is hard to comprehend.

I think marijuana should be legalized.It is not a gateway drug and it offers a variety of important medicinal benefits. It’s a total no-brainer as far as I’m concerned.People should have the right to choose. But there is another very important reason that pot should be legal, one that I’ve not seen addressed much in the media.

I love doing research for my novels, especially if it involves jumping on an airplane or saddling up the car and heading out into the great unknown.A good portion of my life is spent wandering around.I love the details of other people’s lives, new subjects, thorny issues.I like the coffee makers in motel rooms and cheap bars of soap.There’s nothing better than sleeping under the stars on a warm night out in the middle of the desert—just me and my taser.I love talking to strangers about intense situations and high drama.I notice that I often adapt a slight southern drawl when ordering my breakfast at truck stops.I like to arrive in a new town, read the local paper and dive right in. There’s nothing better than jumping into the middle of a crisis, transforming myself into a character, and finding out how all the elements will impact my developing story.It’s the particulars of a situation that make the moment real for me; the way things look or taste or feel, are what allow my people to breathe and function.Usually I wear cowboy boots and jeans when I’m doing research–sometimes a big belt buckle.It helps.

I was sitting on the front steps reading, within ear but not eyeshot of the driveway, when I heard my mother talking to a woman with a slightly-crude voice. I thought it might be the woman who lives next door. I’ve never met her, but I know her husband, Al. He regularly drinks Natural Light beer with his shirt off in the middle of the day, so it’s fair to assume he’s married to a woman with a slightly-crude voice.

The woman asked if she was at 85 Joalco Road.My mother confirmed this, and then the woman explained she was here to administer an interview on behalf of the United States Public Health Service, that my brother, whom she referred to as “the 21 year old male,” had been randomly selected for the study and stood to earn $30 should he participate. She wanted to know when the 21-year old male would be home, because she had quotas to meet with regard to particular demographics.

“Too bad you couldn’t pick my other son. He’s a 28 year old male and he’s home right now,” said my mother.

When she said this, I decided not to stand up and have a look at the woman with the slightly crude voice, even though I very much wanted to. It occurred to me that the interviewer and I could help each other out, seeing as she has quotas to meet and I’m broke, unemployed and living with my parents.

But being broke and unemployed at your parents’ house isn’t all that bad. You get to do things like walkaround in a bathrobe outside at 10 a.m. bird watching and drinking coffee.

That is what I’m doing when a navy blue Jeep Cherokee pulls into the driveway. A woman gets out, smiles, and says, “You must be the 21 year old male.I spoke with your mom the other day.”

She doesn’t look the way I imagined her to, which was short, older and graying. Rather, she is tallish, oldish, dyed too-auburn.

“Yeah, she told me about you. You’re in luck. You caught me on my day off,” I say, opening the gate to let her in. “What a morning.”

It’s about 70 degrees. The birds are giving their morning recital. Early daylight spills over the top of early-spring-green leaves. Bands of clouds drift lazily overhead on the slightest of breezes.

We decide to work outside at the picnic table. I quickly go inside and pour myself a fresh cup of coffee then take a seat across from the stranger.

“Where do you live?” I ask her.

“Middleton,” she answers.

“I’m not sure where that is exactly. Near Concord?”

“Not really. It’s next to Farmington.”

Farmington is a very sleazy town, so Middleton is probably at least a little bit sleazy by association. I wouldn’t say this woman is sleazy, but there is a hint of sleaze. The voice…the dye job…the pack of Virginia Slims menthol extra long 120s…

“Do you work for the census department?” I ask.

“No, I work for a company subcontracted by the government,” she says and hands me a brochure.

The cover says: National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Answering your important questions. I open it up and read the first page:

What is the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH)?

The National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) is the Federal Government’s primary source of national data on the use of alcohol, tobacco and illicit substances. The survey also cont