Thursday, October 19, 2006

Another leaf

When I was a sophomore in high school, I was paid to water the plants of our next-door neighbors while they were away. I'd had this job many times. On the first landing of their stairs, they had a most unusual plant, which looked like marijuana. I knew what pot plants looked like, of course, since I was listening to hard rock, and the whole country was drowned in drug culture. On FM radio in those days there was open encouragement by the DJs to do illegal drugs. The references were only thinly veiled in order to be more clever. I remember listening to a DJ saying something like "If you're going speeeeeding tonight, just remember to stay between the white lines." These pro-drug raps would go on and on.

So I asked the neighbor, who drove the new Honda CVCC with a One World bumper sticker on the back, if the plant was marijuana. No, he chuckled, it was something called 'false arelia.' He said it was a non-cannabis that only looks like marijuana. They had it in their house as a 'conversation starter.'

I can imagine the conversations. I would be like if my sweet wife and I had a sex doll in our living room, and handcuffs dangling from the ceiling.

But I don't think they were stoners. He was ex-Air Force and still had the crew cut and the enormous watch. She worked in a bank.

I had few friends in high school, but they were the smartest kids. Most of them were stoners, naturally. What else would an intelligent, artistic, perceptive kid in the late '70s be?

I didn't try pot until I was a senior, and only a couple of times. At age nineteen, I decided it was bunk and gave away the only lid I'd ever bought to an amazed hippy dude. That was the same year, at a dorm party, that I surreptitiously poured out my alcohol drink in a planter, and decided not to fetch another.

I did not like the feeling of having been absent that I got after pot or booze. It was like I'd missed a part of my life, been dead. I gather this is precisely why so many people like them. I also sensed in myself a weakness that these substances could exploit. I was probably vulnerable to substance abuse. But I enjoy my real life, and don't want it to be wasted. "Wasted" is such an apt word.

My father, I am told, was convinced that I would become an alcoholic like my uncle. He saw something in me that he'd seen in his brother. Apparently he shared this observation with everyone except me. When I came home from college one time, after I was 21, they offered me some wine with dinner. I declined. After quizzing me, my mother went over to my father and fairly sang "Your son is a teetotaler!" She would do anything for that man, but not, I guess, rejoice in the destruction of his children.

While plant-sitting at 15, I examined the neighbors' plant with exquisite care. I knew, from reading, that cannabis leaves were supposed to have tiny hairs on them. These leaves were more like very flat ones from a succulent. I smelled the plant. Pot plants have a smell. This one didn't. True, I had never smoked pot, but I did want to find out if my neighbors were stoners. I spent a long time studying that plant, and I recall smirking that it was a nice try, but no one would be fooled. Still, the morphological similarity of the leaves was remarkable.

I carefully picked one large leaf and pressed it between the pages of my math book. I probably intended to display it to my stoner friends to amuse them. But I have no memory of doing so. What I do recall is that, at some point when I was trying to entertain with my witticisms about math, I went over to my father and flipped open the math book, looking for the page to bolster my comment.

Up popped the leaf.

A pause.

"Uh, that's not what it looks like" I said.

My middle sister was in the room at the time. We'd squabbled and argued and fought since I was a toddler. Now that we're grown, we get along fine.

I told the whole story of the plant that only looks like cannabis.

He didn't buy it.

"That's ... marijuana" he sonorously intoned.

I said we could go over to the neighbors' house and ask to see the plant. No response. I now think that he thought they were stoners and that I'd gotten it from their pot plant.

A few days later my mother encouraged me to do some school thing, I don't remember what. "It costs three dollars," I said.

"I'll give it to you," she said.

"Don't give it to him!" implored my alarmed middle sister. "He'll just buy another leaf!"

That is so funny, I can't tell you.

What's ironic is that a few years later, when I was maybe 18, her loser husband (now out of the picture) lit up a spleef and we all three smoked it.
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