Sunday, March 16, 2008

What's The New Mary Jane?

I should say a few words about the House of Fred.

The House of Fred lay 5 or 6 houses down from mine on the other side of the street. Fred’s family were an advanced and overachieving group gifted with above-average intelligence who sometimes seemed bred from a different strain of DNA than most of us. Reading, studying, difficult math problems and foreign languages were commonplace and effortless here. Arts high and low mingled freely and the latest albums and comics were always in copious supply.

They also had this thing called an FM radio.

This thing just amazed me. It played music in stereo, for cryin’ out loud, and the music that the FM stations played was like nothing I’d ever heard before. And the DJ’s just talked normally, like you would talk to a friend or something. It certainly wasn’t the rapid fire patter I was used to from the AM dial.

There was Fred, his two older brothers (who brought much of this interesting stuff to our attention), and his sister George. They had moved to Philadelphia from Detroit where they had been neighbors with the Nugent family. The story went that Fred’s dad actually brought the infant Ted Nugent home from the hospital. If the child killed, skinned, and ate anything during the trip, Fred’s dad never mentioned it.

Everything I knew about what was going on musically came from the House of Fred. I routinely borrowed huge stacks of LP’s to take home. It was Fred’s brother who (a curse on his head) introduced me to Finnegans Wake and it was George who gave me the boxed set of Stravinsky ballets.

So it would not be an exaggeration to say that I received a sort of secondary education at the House of Fred. I’m not sure exactly how Fred and I first got together, but I can recall an early conversation about what the girl members of the Legion of Super-Heroes would look like naked. From that moment on it was a fast friendship that lasted all the way through high school.

Now as we approached the college years we saw less and less of each other as everyone’s lives began to change. I think it was George who first introduced me to M. (they had a mutual interest in recreational…stuff) and we slowly but surely became partners-in-crime, eventually ending up in Grand Rapids, Michigan, along with the OG and the less said about that frozen wasteland the better.

Which is not to say that M. replaced Fred, but there was the sense of a torch being passed.

It was a relationship that lasted until M. turned to me one day and said, “I’m sick of this poverty shit!” and became interested in a popular human potential movement, at which point any friend who was not also interested in it was cut loose. You couldn’t really talk to him anymore as he now spoke a different language that consisted of new age bromides and fortune cookie messages.

But this was years away still.

At this moment, however, you find the three of us, myself and two of the closest friends I was ever likely to have and representing between them two halves of my life, hunkered over our frosty mugs at the Ye Olde Ale House as I decide to light up a herbal cigarette.

I actually still have the box. I’m holding it now.

From India, the top of the box reads. A True Herbal Treasure For Your Smoking Pleasure.

It felt much cooler smoking this than a cigarette. It looked cooler, it smelled cooler, and it gave me the exotic and worldly air of someone who could think outside the crush-proof box.

In fact, in the dark, I suppose someone unfamiliar with what an actual joint looked and smelled like could be forgiven for thinking that I might have just lit one up. Certainly I could tell the difference. Its leafy exterior looked nothing like a joint and the strangely sweetish odor you identify with them was completely absent.

So, like, maybe a 10-year old kid might jump to that conclusion, or your dear sainted grandmother who’d read about them in the paper. Sure.

But not a cop. That would never happen because they have too much experience with that sort of thing. They deal with it all the time.

I mean, they train them, right?

Next: Don't Fear The Reefer


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