“I talk about what I see, and I’m so sorry that 99% of what I see is no good.” Manu Chao

If you're in the mood for happy music, go to my last post, but if your inclination is toward darkness, stay here.

When I started medical marijuana, I switched overnight from talk radio all day long to music radio all day long. I started with modern American pop stations because I was looking for musicians to complement my collection of artists from the sixties and seventies. Whenever a commercial came on, I would flip to another station trying to find even one artist I liked, but I never did, and it wasn’t because I was stuck in the past. Indeed, I was screaming to be carried into the 21st century music scene, but not just because I live in the 21st century. Since I liked a Colombian singer whom Peggy enjoys named Shakira, I started getting library CDs by other Latin performers, and that’s when I stumbled upon Manu.

Music is crucial to my altered vision of the world, and so I had to find at least one new artist for this new day, an artist in whom I recognized brilliance, integrity, passion, and benevolence. I didn’t want an artist who would take me out of this world, but an artist who would put me more deeply into it than the news ever had. Manu is that artist. Listening to too much news hadn’t opened my heart; it had overwhelmed it under a cloak of objectivity, and I had closed myself off in defense.

You can find Youtube footage of Manu Chao performing concerts at packed soccer stadiums in dozens of countries on several continents, but if you’re an American, you’ve probably never heard of him. Such is our isolation. The song at the top was the first I heard by him. The opening lines (“Welcome to Tijuana. 
Tekila, sexo y marihuana”) made me think that the song was either a tribute to or a spoof about a major Mexican/American border city, and I smiled. Then, Manu’s voice—and other sounds and voices—began to come in one by one with incredible sadness. So it was that my first lesson about Manu Chao was that his music never gives me what I expect. I can’t even listen to two-thirds of a song by him, and guess where he’s going with the last third.

Manu grew up in Paris, the son of Spaniards who fled Franco. He’s a leftist who sings in many languages but mostly in Spanish. A common theme in his music is wealthy countries and individuals that live on the backs of the poor. Yet, to one like myself who has to look up the translations, his music initially sounds almost upbeat, and this combination of sad words and happy music makes the sadness more profound. I hear in his music the irony between how we all, to some degree, appear on the surface versus the heartbreak that we feel within. I’m also attracted to the layering of voices and instruments and to the changes of direction that he often takes within the course of a single song. So far as I know, there’s no name for his style of music.

Below is the same song performed before a live audience in France. Part of his appeal as a live musician lies in his ability to turn the mood of tens of thousands of people back and forth instantly. This--along with seeing him on stage--makes the video phenomenal, although I find the actual music less pleasing than the studio version.

“Music…became the engine of my life.” Lou Bega

I found Lou Bega’s CD A little bit of Mambo at Goodwill last week and, not having heard of him, decided to risk $2.69. Peggy likes him more than I do—I’m sharing him with you partly to give you a sense of the playfulness that I love about her—but I readily acknowledge his brilliance.

He was born in 1975 in Germany— where he still lives—and is of Italian and Ugandan descent. He released a hip hop CD when he was 15, but his career only took off after he lived in Miami and discovered Cuban music, specifically mambo. According to Wikipedia, he once performed in front of 170,000 fans in Poland. When I hear of such crowds, I immediately wonder two things: how far away from the stage was the fellow in the back row; and how much of a walk was it to the toilet?

I’m sharing this particular song because most of you are women, and it struck me as especially powerful for your gender. Play it once, and you laugh; play it again, and you cry—or at least I do, and I’m not even a woman.

Now that you’ve experienced music beloved by Peggy, get ready because I'm next, and you're in for a change.

Things just keep getting stranger and stranger

Russell—my habitually jobless brother-in-law—lived by the motto: “Dope will get you through times of no money better than money will get you through times of no dope.” If Russell was out of marijuana, he would drive as far as it took and spend as much as necessary to get some, and he would smoke it all day everyday until he ran out. Then he divorced my sister, married a woman with three children who vehemently opposed drugs, and took a sixty-hour job at an egg factory (picture a filthy, smelly, ear-shattering, disease ridden, standing-room-only hell for a million defenseless creatures, and that’s an egg factory). Go figure.

I never wanted to smoke dope all day long, but I’ve been high to some extent for weeks now, and I can’t say that I oppose staying that way. Pot lessens my pain, lightens my mood, helps me sleep, decreases my stress, renews my sense of wonder, heightens my appreciation of music, helps me get along better with Peggy, makes me tolerant of—and interested in—other people, and enables me to be more honest yet more tactful. On the downside, it shreds my memory, makes me accident-prone, messes with my coordination, decreases my ability to judge time and speed, and probably has long-term consequences that I don’t even know about. This leads me to ask which are more important to me, the good things that pot gives or the good things that pot takes away. Right now, my vote is with number one. Sometimes, you don’t know how bad things have been until they get a little better, and pot has made things a great deal better. Fuck having brains; I just want to feel good.

As I see it, pot is different from narcotics, anti-depressants, and sleeping pills (all of which I’ve relied on heavily at one time or another) primarily in that it does a better job with less risk. I’ve taken a lot of powerful drugs, but they all scared me so much that I never had the balls to take as many as I actually needed, and my fear increased dramatically as I built up a tolerance to every one of them. One virtue of pot is that you’re not going to wake up with yellow eyes or failed kidneys, and I would sacrifice quite a few brains cells to avoid either of those. Brains are good, obviously, but you have to ask yourself after a certain point how many are strictly necessary. Of course, I’m assuming here that marijuana-related memory loss is long-term, and I don’t know that to be true… Now what was I saying?

The photo is of a psychedelic frogfish and was made by David Hall at seaphotos.com

The wisdom of Satan

As a child, I couldn’t imagine that anything existed apart from my presence, and this resulted in the happy thought that the entire universe was but a product of my imagination. Only later did there settle upon me the horrifying realization that this could only mean that I was completely and inexorably alone. The following conversation from Mark Twain’s novelette, The Mysterious Stranger echoes my imagining, if it was an imagining. When I’m smoking marijuana, it almost seems that I was right the first time (this feeling of being lost and alone within an unknowable universe is the thing that most frightens me about pot, and that makes pot irresistible to me). The speakers are a 15th century boy named Theodor and his friend, the angel Satan—a character who is surely a hundred times more interesting than any of the gods. I am so moved by this passage that I sometimes howl when I read it (or is that too unbalanced to admit?) It starts with Satan speaking.

“…I must go now, and we shall not see each other any more."

“In this life, Satan, but in another? We shall meet in another, surely?”

Then, all tranquilly and soberly, he made the strange answer, “There is no other.”

A subtle influence blew upon my spirit from his, bringing with it a vague, dim, but blessed and hopeful feeling that the incredible words might be true - even must be true.

“Have you never suspected this, Theodor?”

“No. How could I? But if it can only be true –”

“It is true.”

A gust of thankfulness rose in my breast, but a doubt checked it before it could issue in words, and I said, “But - but - we have seen that future life - seen it in its actuality, and so –”

“It was a vision - it had no existence.”

I could hardly breathe for the great hope that was struggling in me. “A vision? - a vi –”

“Life itself is only a vision, a dream.”

It was electrical. By God! I had had that very thought a thousand times in my musings!

“Nothing exists; all is a dream. God - man - the world - the sun, the moon, the wilderness of stars - a dream, all a dream; they have no existence. Nothing exists save empty space - and you!”


“And you are not you - you have no body, no blood, no bones, you are but a thought. I myself have no existence; I am but a dream - your dream, creature of your imagination. In a moment you will have realized this, then you will banish me from your visions and I shall dissolve into the nothingness out of which you made me . . .

“I am perishing already - I am failing - I am passing away. In a little while you will be alone in shoreless space, to wander its limitless solitudes without friend or comrade forever - for you will remain a thought, the only existent thought, and by your nature inextinguishable, indestructible. But I, your poor servant, have revealed you to yourself and set you free. Dream other dreams, and better!

“Strange! that you should not have suspected years ago - centuries, ages, eons, ago! - for you have existed, companionless, through all the eternities.

"Strange, indeed, that you should not have suspected that your universe and its contents were only dreams, visions, fiction! Strange, because they are so frankly and hysterically insane - like all dreams: a God who could make good children as easily as bad, yet preferred to make bad ones; who could have made every one of them happy, yet never made a single happy one; who made them prize their bitter life, yet stingily cut it short; who gave his angels eternal happiness unearned, yet required his other children to earn it; who gave his angels painless lives, yet cursed his other children with biting miseries and maladies of mind and body; who mouths justice and invented hell - mouths mercy and invented hell - mouths Golden Rules, and forgiveness multiplied by seventy times seven, and invented hell; who mouths morals to other people and has none himself; who frowns upon crimes, yet commits them all; who created man without invitation, then tries to shuffle the responsibility for man’s acts upon man, instead of honorably placing it where it belongs, upon himself; and finally, with altogether divine obtuseness, invites this poor, abused slave to worship him! . . .

“You perceive, now, that these things are all impossible except in a dream. You perceive that they are pure and puerile insanities, the silly creations of an imagination that is not conscious of its freaks - in a word, that they are a dream, and you the maker of it. The dream-marks are all present; you should have recognized them earlier.

“It is true, that which I have revealed to you; there is no God, no universe, no human race, no earthly life, no heaven, no hell. It is all a dream - a grotesque and foolish dream. Nothing exists but you. And you are but a thought - a vagrant thought, a useless thought, a homeless thought, wandering forlorn among the empty eternities!"

He vanished, and left me appalled; for I knew, and realized, that all he had said was true.

My continuing adventures with medical marijuana

I started out smoking my pot with a homemade pipe, but I hated that pipe, so I got a store bought one, but I hated it too. I then bought a bong, and it’s far superior to the pipes, but I would prefer to not smoke anything, so last week, I threw two cups of marijuana leaves into a pint of olive oil, and heated the oil at 220° F (104° C) for two hours. The result was neither pretty nor tasty, yet palatable enough on toast. The only real downside to the mixture is that it takes so long to work (up to three hours). I’ve also had a problem getting the dosage right. One night I wouldn’t feel anything after swallowing a rounded teaspoon; the next night, a heaping teaspoonful would practically leave me catatonic. Because I’m trying to make my marijuana experimentation as pleasant as possible to Peggy, the catatonic nights posed some behavioral challenges. When you can barely walk or talk, just saying goodnight is difficult, yet I consider it important that I be able to function more or less normally when I’m high, so the challenge isn’t altogether unwelcome.

Yesterday, I decided to take a new tack, so I bought a bottle of 190 proof alcohol, and mixed it with nearly a quart of marijuana leaves (see photo). Now, I just have to shake the mixture twice a day, and in two weeks, the THC will have leached out of the pot and into the alcohol, at which time the foul smelling and horrible tasting concoction can either be taken with an eyedropper or rubbed into the skin. I will admit to no little curiosity about this combination of two intoxicants, which is infamous for landing people in the ER. Now, going to the ER when you’re having a bad time of it on pot isn’t the best idea in the world because—unless you’re psychotic anyway or your marijuana is impure—your only real danger comes from panic. So, you ask, how does that work, exactly? Well, think of marijuana as being like water in a lake. If you’re learning to swim, and you panic in the water, bad things happen unnecessarily, and so it is with marijuana, although with the latter, the bad things are all inside your head, and should go away after several hours if you are able to remain calm.

Before I close, I’ll report on my physical therapy appointment yesterday. The night before, I was in so much pain from my exercises that I needed marijuana, Requip, Neurontin, and oxycodone to sleep even a little, so I decided to ask the therapist if it made sense for me to keep exercising since, no matter how little I do or how much time I take off, the pain is still intolerable. I never got to ask because he told me straight away to stop exercising for a month, at which time he would like to see me again. As he pointed out, I’m already up to 80% flexibility in the shoulder that I had surgery on in April, and so it would be reasonable for me to give up the exercises for good.

While I’m reporting, I’ll add that I saw my surgeon last week. He said he was unhappy about having done three surgeries on me only to have each of them leave me in even worse pain. I try to stay upbeat around doctors to keep them from becoming discouraged, and so I did what I could to cheer Mark up, but I went away feeling badly about the appointment because I’m afraid he’s going to balk about doing a fourth—and hopefully final—surgery. Before you remind me that it’s the job of the doctor to comfort the patient instead of the other way around, I’ll just mention that what should be the case and what is the case are often miles apart. If you have a doctor whom you like as much as I like Mark, it pays to make your time with him something that he will feel good about because frustrated doctors tend to dump patients, even when, as in my case, a negative outcome is almost surely unrelated to any mistake the doctor made or could have foreseen.

I just realized that I’ve gained eight followers since I started writing about marijuana. Are some of them narcs, politicians, or talk show employees who will soon take my words out of context and feature me as an example of why Oregon’s medical marijuana law should be overturned? I’m torn between wanting to be as honest about this subject as I’ve been about other subjects, and not wanting to harm the future of medical marijuana, or get myself arrested, or make myself into an object of public ridicule. Maybe the mass of conservatives really are well-meaning people of conscience, but all I see in their leadership is greed, bigotry, dishonesty, and the willingness to destroy any and everyone who gets in their way; all in the name of their “Blessed Savior.” Oh, but I forgot; it’s our supposedly liberal president who reversed his campaign promises when he ordered the latest war on medical marijuana. Are no politicians to be trusted, ever? No, no politicians, ever. No politicians, no government agencies, no military spokesmen, and no religious leaders. Power does indeed corrupt, if not always, nearly always.

Upon being stoned for two weeks

After praising the pain-killing and mood-elevating qualities of marijuana in my last post, I cut my Naproxen (an anti-inflammatory) by half and my Neurontin (a painkiller) by two-thirds. I also doubled the intensity of my twice a day workout. Well, wouldn’t you know it, the pain came roaring back, and the marijuana couldn’t stop it. Why do I never see these things coming? As soon as I feel even a little better, I go overboard and lay myself low for days or even weeks.

So then, have I stopped the pot? No because it still helps. One hit will leave me stoned for hours, so I take eight during the course of a night, and am stoned all the next day. As with narcotics, the principal benefit of marijuana isn’t that it has the power to eliminate any and all pain, but that it has the power to make the pain easier to bear (lying awake high all night is definitely preferable to lying awake sober). Alongside the pain, I’m working on attitude, and the pot is helping with that too. How? I’ll enumerate.

Peggy. Peggy is not a person to complain until a situation is really bad, and she recently told one of my doctors that my unhappiness was making things very hard for her. Now that I’m smoking pot, she’s okay, I think—with Peggy, it’s often hard to tell. In any event, she seems happy, and we haven’t had a fight since my first puff. Marijuana undeniably softens me… I should mention that there have been two things in our 39-year marriage that nearly sunk the ship as far as Peggy was concerned. One was my womanizing, and the other was marijuana. Yet, if I stopped smoking today, she would no doubt tie me to a chair and force the smoke down my throat with a leafblower.

Music. I want to listen to it—I ordered Pink Floyd, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Dan Fogelberg just today. Instead of walking into a room and finding me listening to the latest news of Syria or to talk about the Republican contenders for the presidential election a year and a half from now, Peggy walked in today to find me crying over Shakira (Donde estas Corazon). I simply don’t want to hear up to the minute news regarding horrible things that I can do absolutely nothing about except feel depressed and powerless. The question is, why did I ever?

Other people. I’ve become suddenly fascinated by the stories that others have to tell—and I will approach almost anyone. Before pot, my conversations were usually short with me doing much of the talking. Now, they’re long, and I hardly open my mouth. I’m quite amazed by how voluble people are once I stop talking about myself, and ask them about themselves. People who I never even liked simply won’t shut up, and, surprisingly, I’m okay with that.

Anger and depression. I spend a lot more time angry than depressed, but much of both have dropped away. I’m finally having to admit that I will probably suffer from some degree of pain and disability for the rest of my life, and I have concluded that (a) I can live with that, and (b) there are no magic bullets; there are simply various things that are useful to various degrees. Pain and disability are only half the problem. Railing against life’s unfairness is the other half, and I’m so tired of being angry that I simply can’t continue. I’ve done the best I could, and I respect myself for it, but now I am finding the strength to believe that I can do better, and I thank pot for that because I was wound too tight to unwind myself.

Directness. It’s scary, the things I say. The pot makes me too open, too willing to risk rejection. Yet, there is something frighteningly beautiful about that. It’s like art, music, and visiting the woods, in that I love it so much I had rather die prematurely than to live without it. Pot used to close doors for me because it made me so paranoid that I couldn’t function around other people—and I don’t just mean appropriately; I mean at all. Now, pot that is far stronger than what I smoked in the old days is opening doors. Go figure.

*The illustration for this post is by Maf04. One way that such art captures the psydelic experience is by inducing a sense of disequilibrium. Of course, with art, all one has to do is to look away.

Dead Men's Tales

The trouble with choosing people older than yourself for friends is that they sometimes look at you with a wry smile, and you know they’re thinking that you’re just too young to understand _____. The condescension runs both ways. I only remember one time in my entire 40 years with Peggy that her father made an honest effort to act like my friend, and I turned him down—not in so many words, of course—on the basis of him being a member of an old, naïve, and completely out-of-it generation. I simply couldn’t believe that anyone who didn’t love my music, my movies, my writers, my marijuana, my hairstyle, and my slang, could possibly have anything worthwhile to offer.

Two of my best friends—K. (that’s him and me in the 1983 photo) and B.—were years older than I. Both started out as my teachers, in one way or another, but as our affection grew, the Southern-style deference that I paid them because of their age fell away. Then, we loved, drank, fought, hiked, traveled, botanized, theologized, philosophized, smoked pot, ate psilocybin, and loved some more—and no, I don’t mean sexually, despite the fact that B. made a determined attempt to rape me (I was so much stronger that I laughed as I fought him off).

While K. was awaiting trial for running the biggest marijuana farm in the history of the Southeastern United States, he and I went through a cemetery to find him a new identity, and the name we came up with that matched his birthyear was Robert _____. K. wrote off for Robert’s birth certificate and social security card, and got a driver’s license in Robert’s name. I don’t know if illegally changing your identity is still that easy. Probably not, eh?

K. and B. are dead now. B. was a likely sucide (he hit a freight truck head-on while driving at high speed in the wrong direction on the Interstate), and K. was a twice escaped felon with a doctorate who finally disappeared from my life for good 23 years ago. He was a homeless alcoholic with signs of liver failure by then; that’s why I feel sure he’s dead (besides, if he wasn’t dead, I would have heard from him by now). His letters are in the drawer beside me, but I never read them anymore because it would make me too sad. Life can sure hurt sometimes.

Peggy and Brewsky as taken by Peggy last night in sepia

This is a better than average shot of Peggy because she's not wearing her usual photo-face (not too badly, anyway). As for Brewsky, there is no way to take a bad photo of him. Peggy sometimes sits and stares at him for the better part of an hour because he's so beautiful.