Poor Curt, a naturally nervous sort, had daily been peeing a lot and obsessing about ancient slights and, prior to showering, cursing those he should’ve socked and those he planned to still. He could not take this anymore but hadn’t much considered what he should do, noting only he’d been having fantasies from decades ago. The local newspaper article was coincidental yet portentous: red Kern County would be hosting a Hemp and Cannabis Fair at the fairgrounds.
“I’m heading over there now,” he said Saturday morning.
“Don’t touch that stuff,” said Ellen, his wife.
“I won’t. It’s been twenty years. Besides, the article said they’re only exhibiting their products.”
Once through the long line and paying fifteen to enter Carl blended with gray-haired laid-back Woodstock folks who comprised half the visitors, and most admired the misting machine, part of a system that controls temperature for growing, in your home, perhaps, where you can raise up to five plants for personal medical use. At numerous stations he examined prime green buds in jars and glass displays on long low tables.
“How much does it cost?” he asked a young man.
“Depends on the strain. Ten bucks a gram and up.”
He handed Carl a cigarette-shaped pink tube carrying a coupon for a free joint.
“How many joints a gram?
“Two. One if the joint’s larger.”
“Can we sample here?”
“No, you’ve got to get a state license for medical use.”
“Is that hard?”
“Easy,” he said and handed Carl a flashy four-by-eight four by eight. “Call this number. It’s up in Oildale.”
He dreaded waiting till Monday and nervously asked, “Are they still open?”
“Yeah, most are open today.”
Carl moved to another booth, saying hello to a woman whose sleek dress revealed several colorful tattoos. As he leaned over some jars and sniffed buds, he remembered the fresh organic smell he’d liked but rarely found in an era of unregulated ragweed. Today, on occasion, chemical smells jolted him to ask about differences.
“I like the outdoor stuff,” said a man young in a business of youth. “It’s actually grown in greenhouses but looks more outdoor, smells fresher, has a better affect than stuff grown inside by lights.”
“How much is this?”
“Ten and up a gram. All our THC is at least ten percent, the price goes up for ten to twenty, and is about eighteen for the strongest, twenty-five percent. But you older guys should stay with the weaker stuff. My grandparents still can’t smoke the strong stuff.”
Carl concurred, and visited a group offering home deliveries for minimum orders of twenty-five. A man barely adult said, “Here you go,” slipping him a sealed piece of soft candy. “It has a little less than a gram of THC. Think of it as a joint. Don’t eat it all at once. Try half or a quarter first.”
Carl was reading the FDA-like contents on the package when a former colleague from school where he retired a couple years earlier tapped his arm and said, ““Whaddya’ doin’ here?”
“Just checking things out. You smoke?”
“No, I’ve got cardio problems, and my wife would freak out. I’m looking for edibles.”
“I’ve considered those. I shouldn’t smoke, either.”
Carl in fact needed smoke. He hadn’t wanted it for a generation, yet craved it now, and looked at the promo for medical evaluations, remembering someone said the place was cash only, and walked out of the fair. He stopped at his bank’s drive through and drove north of the Kern River, a dry ditch at this point, to Oildale, a rough poor place reeking of rural Oklahoma from the nineteen thirties. In the clinic, part of a single-story row of offices decades old and not updated, young adults forty and under occupied almost every seat.
A lady, without visible tattoos, instructed Carl to fill out six pages of questions and hand them in. No, Carl couldn’t use the bathroom there; it was being fixed. The lady pointed to a coffee shop nearby. Ten minutes and a blueberry scone later he reentered a place less than half full. Soon he paid forty-nine dollars and walked back behind the curtain and sat at a desk where a small, hazy video screen faced him. Inside the screen rested an older man, perhaps eighty, wearing a white lab coat and looking at Carl.
“Why do you need marijuana?” asked the doctor.
“Acute insomnia,” he said.
“Are you currently taking medications?”
He asked a couple more easy questions and said, “Thank you.”
In an instant the receptionist handed Carl an official California certificate authorizing one-year of medical marijuana use. He could not possess more than half a pound at a time – he thought they were kidding – nor could he drive. She also gave him a business card addressing his question about good pot stores.
Back down Chester Ave. still a little north of downtown Bakersfield he passed a hospital, slowed to find the address, and parked in front of a place that felt fortified. In front a buzzer opened a door to a barren room leading left to a bulletproof screen behind which stood a woman. “Your certificate, please.”
In a couple of minutes Carl was buzzed through an interior door and pointed down the hall to the display room. After nodding at the young salesman behind a glass counter, Carl began bending to jars and smelling, and finding the same range of sensations as at the fair. This place had everything labeled, most jars offering some or all of at least four confusing categories: Indica, Sativa, Hybrid, and CBD.
“What do those mean?”
Taking one of the store’s white bags, the salesman wrote: “Indica good for sleep, pain and anxiety, but causes head trips. Sativa – uppity and hyper. Hybrid – lots of things, not as precise. CBD – pain, sleep, inflammation, arthritis.
“The only thing I understand a little is the percentage of THC. Ten and up pretty good. I guess I’m supposed to avoid the real strong stuff.”
The young man pushed a jar out front and said, “Here’s Venom, less than eight percent THC and a lot of CBD.”
“What’s CBD again?”
“It’s separate from THC and helps with pain, sleep, and arthritis.”
“I’ve always needed the first two, and now for a little arthritis, too,” said Carl.
He purchased two large cigarettes for twenty dollars and, as a new customer, was given a little cupcake, like the candy gift at the fair, bearing the power of a joint. Green products went into a small plastic bag, and everything into a white paper bag.
Carl next drove to the store, unlocked and welcoming, that offered the coupon for a free joint. Down the hall from the check-in, a lady behind the counter offered less scientific labeling than the first store, and asserted that CBD’s hard to find and wondered how the other guy was so sure. She pointed to a wall of jars holding kick-butt cannabis. He selected a few less-strong “hybrid joints,” in boxes at the counter, for six bucks apiece, and followed the lady into the lounge where a few men and women at a bar were applying a blowtorch to a pipe that, after the THC burned, channeled smoke through a cylinder into water and out a tube into mouths that soon assured Carl this was the prime way to do it. “This way really whacks you,” said one of the men.
“I better not smoke anything that has to be lit that way,” Carl told the saleswoman. “By the way, two police cars were parked just up the street.”
“There’s an apartment complex near here that has a lot of trouble. The police don’t worry about us.”
“Really, a puff or two puts people under the influence, isn’t that right?” Carl asked.
“Yeah, pretty much,” she said. They returned to the counter and she put joints into a small plastic bag and then into a white paper bag.
Carl dreaded next having to face Ellen, a tougher interlocutor than the police. As she wasn’t home he at once lit up a large joint, supposedly fairly weak, from the first store, and when his wife entered he stood and proudly proclaimed, “Ellen, a doctor from the state of California has cleared me for medical use of marijuana. Look at my certificate.”
“They’re doing this for money, not your health.”
“Would you like some, either to smoke or eat?”
“No,” she said.
Carl kept smoking, the motions and sensations feeling as they had in the seventies, and uneasiness akin to paranoia also returned. He’d battle it the same way he used to, with exercise. Taking off his shirt, he picked up two light dumbbells and began punching, pressing, and curling, and said, “Let’s go for a walk, Ellen.”
She agreed, and after a mile of uneventful strolling he thought things were all right. But back home she went into the master bedroom and locked the door. Carl smoked more and began eating the little cupcake, and then ate the whole thing, and downed the candy, too, and continued smoking, when burning lungs didn’t need a break, until he retired to the guest bedroom where, in the morning, Ellen pounded the locked door and shouted, “I’ve been up all night, reading about men smoking pot and killing their wives.”
“That never happens.”
“I read it online.”
“Alcohol is generally the drug that causes violent behavior, Ellen.”
“You have to decide whether pot is more important to you than I am.”
“Leave me alone.”
Carl, determined to sedate his bladder and suppress his obsessions, avoided Ellen as much as he possible for two more days of intermittent smoking and long naps.
“You’re completely different this way,” she said, standing in his guest room.
“I tried to share this experience with you.”
“You’ll ruin your health.”
“If you cared about my health, why haven’t you said anything about my recent medical problems?”
“I didn’t notice,” she said.
“Those problems were worse than whatever’s going on now. Besides, after this, I promise I’m going to limit myself to edibles.”
“Then you won’t mind I’ve already flushed the pot.”