Until my early 30s, I had never smoked anything. In fact, the practice of smoking appalled me. Sometimes I’d be with a group of friends, and they would start smoking a cigarette of some kind, which they passed from hand to hand. They would invite me to join in, but I made it plain that I had no interest whatsoever.
I’m not sure what finally induced me to yield — but I think I must have been unusually depressed (as I often was in those days) — and so desperate that I felt I had nothing to lose. I inhaled only a little — but the effect upon me was so immediate, so pleasant, and so profound, that I realized something new and wonderful had come into my life.
We were in a house near the ocean, and, as we walked down to the beach and I looked upwards, I felt that I had never really seen the stars before.
Of course, this was not tobacco (which I have never stopped detesting). But, unlike tobacco, it was a substance then still highly illegal. It was known by various names, of which the simplest was “pot.” I soon learned the kinds of precautions one must take, because of the distinctive odor, to avoid the long arm (and nose), of the law. Only one of my pot-smoking friends was ever arrested, but fortunately was not charged with a felony (as he could have been) and got off with “probation.”
To be confident that pot was safe, I read what I could find. One particularly helpful book was a collection of writings called “The Marihuana Papers” (1966). I learned that various studies had been made over the preceding century, and they had generally found much less danger in pot than in alcohol (which, as with tobacco, I have disliked and avoided to this day). One study, commissioned by Mayor La Guardia of New York, concluded that pot was not addictive, and did not cause any measurable mental or physical deterioration. (I know that this subject is still considered debatable, but just want you to understand my outlook at the time.)
As I became a more practiced user, I found I could always expect a certain sequence of effects. The first was to start having many different thoughts and ideas which I immediately wanted to write down. (This was not the genesis of the epigrams on which I eventually built a whole career, but it was certainly a great stimulus to them.) The second effect was a desire to be sociable, to converse, even with strangers. (This was very unusual for me, and was generally beneficial, though I learned, through some less than pleasant experiences, that it had to be kept under control.) The third, with which I know many other users were also familiar, was a heightened appetite, especially for sweet things — a phenomenon known as “the munchies.”
One of the mistakes my innocence led me to make, connected with that desire to socialize, was feeling that I wanted to share this wonderful discovery with some of the people I knew, who were apparently unaware of it. I hardly realized the negative impact this might sometimes make on others, even close friends, who had very different feelings about getting involved with an illegal substance.
There were of course many other “mind-altering” substances floating around in those days — especially among young people — but the only one I ever tried was LSD, commonly known as “acid,” and I had it only twice. The first experience was what was called a “bad trip” (not surprisingly, since the general circumstances, of secrecy and paranoia, were hardly the ideal surroundings). The second time, two years later, was much better — but that was enough for me, and from then on, I stayed only with pot.
And it stayed with me — not only becoming the trade-mark name of my illustrated epigrams: “Pot-Shots,” but also as a theme of my first published collection of writings, a tabloid called “The Haight/Ashbury Songbook,” containing parodies of lyrics of well-known songs — with titles like “My Grandfather’s Pot,” and “Marry-Juana” (to the tune of “Celito Lindo”).
The latter song celebrated another of the magical effects I had discovered — which was a heightened pleasure of sex. I will leave you, nostalgically, with this stanza:
“Why get wed, when she’ll come to bed, soon as you have said that you wanna?
It beats booze, and you’ll never lose, if you always use Marry-Juana.”