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.

 

Get the free Otherppl app.

Listen via iTunes.

Screen Shot 2013-06-04 at 12.32.51 PM

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.

trailer 2

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.