Do boomers still get stoned?
They sure used to. That was one of the defining points of our generation—the so-called drug culture. We experienced it all—the experimenting, the risky buying and selling, the fun it provided and the disasters it occasionally led to. But now that we're winding down and enmeshed in a very different sort of drug culture—I take seven different drugs daily, or is it eight, all of them prescribed by my doctor—drugs have become the one part of our lives that we've rewritten. We've swept them under the carpet, expunged them from our records—our collective dirty little secret.
I frankly can't tell if my friends still indulge. It's a mystery. Of course, there's always a couple, like "Fred," an unrepentant pothead who still calls me up hoping I might know where he can get some "stuff." And at the other spectrum are the people "in recovery," candid about their past drug use and careful to make sure they don't relapse. But most of us are in the middle. We feel we've outgrown it and that it's undignified and inappropriate for our current lot in life as grandparents and community leaders.
Still, though, the itch remains. More and more, it seems, I'll be at a party in a multimillion-dollar house, surrounded by the trappings of success and accomplishment, the tiniest bit mellow from a drink or two, admiring the sunset over the Gulf. How could anything be missing from this wonderful picture? And then the sweet-looking grandmother next to me will turn and whisper, "God, I wish we had a joint."
I'll never forget my first time. It was back in college in the mid-'60s and somebody had gotten hold of some "reefer," until then the exclusive purview of jazz musicians and beatniks. We were so naïve and inexperienced we didn't even know how to smoke it. Rolling papers were unknown to us, so we did what we thought was the logical thing—we hollowed out Marlboro cigarettes and then laboriously stuffed the marijuana inside. And since nobody told us you were supposed to pass it around, we made one for everybody. Then we lit up and each person smoked his or her entire cigarette.
It was quite an introduction. I spent the evening fighting the urge to throw myself out the window. "I will never, ever do this again," I kept thinking. But I did do it again, and human nature being what it is, I tried much of what came my way.
There was something wrong with all the others, though. With LSD you didn't know whether you were about to have a "good trip" or a "bummer"—and it took so long to come down. With magic mushrooms, the prep was a nightmare, and they were so hard to digest. And with cocaine, well, that was so clearly not the way to lead one's life, a lesson learned by many at great expense to their bank accounts and damage to their health. Meth and heroin? Very few of us were that crazy, thank God.
But marijuana was always there. It was our dependable friend. You learned your limits, of course, but it took a surprisingly small amount to achieve the desired result. And it had a democratizing effect. Before pot, there were cool kids and losers. Nothing was more stratified than the social hierarchy of young people. After pot, the two groups blended in a hazy cacophony of loving your brother, rock music and the beauty of nature. You loved everybody—except maybe Richard Nixon.
Marijuana's secret? It stimulated things. In a recent column in The New York Times, David Brooks scolded pot users, saying it made you lazy, unproductive and stupid. My experience was just the opposite. Things became more interesting. You saw how the pieces fit together. You became more creative. Composer Stephen Sondheim once said that the first thing he did before he sat down to write a song was smoke a joint.
And then it all just sort of disappeared. You hit your 40s, then your 50s, and the marijuana was gone. You assumed kids were doing it, just as you had, but in your daily life as a responsible middle-aged person, it just wasn't there anymore. It ceased to be a fixture at parties. Your dealer died or went to jail, and you had no idea how to go about looking for a new one. Your friends stopped using it and gave you funny looks if you so much as mentioned it. It faded away, along with line dancing and high interest rates.
Now it's back.
Colorado and Washington have legalized marijuana sales, and it's just a matter of time before the other states—even moralistic, backwoods Florida—join in. There are certain things I never dreamed I'd see in my lifetime, like same-sex marriage, but the legalization of marijuana isn't one of them. It's just too logical. It's no more dangerous than alcohol, which we celebrate as an enjoyment-enhancer, and as long as you're careful and avoid doing certain things while stoned—like driving a car, looking for something you've misplaced, talking to your stockbroker on the telephone, or writing your monthly magazine column—it can be one of life's pleasures.
I certainly hope this new attitude brings back one of the great enjoyments that we boomers used to experience—the after-dinner joint. You would be finishing up a nice meal at a friend's house, and one of the more thoughtful guests would pull out a joint, light it up, and pass it around. There would then ensue an hour or so of unbridled hilarity and shrieking laughter, which would then transfer itself to the living room and end quietly with everyone sunk deep into the sofa and easy chairs—and floor—listening to Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. God, I hope those days come back.
Marijuana was our entry drug. And now, with any luck, it will be our exit drug as well.
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This article appears in the March 2014 issue of Sarasota Magazine. Like what you read? Click here to subscribe. >>